Switzerland to update rape definition; lawmakers clash over ‘no means no’ and ‘only yes means yes’ approaches

Switzerland’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to dramatically broaden the nation’s previously limited definition of rape to include sexual acts without explicit permission.

The current definition of rape in Switzerland as per AFP is limited to “forced vaginal penetration, met with a certain level of resistance by the woman”.

It is widely agreed that the nation’s definition needs to undergo a much-needed update that does not focus on particular sex and includes all non-consensual penetration, irrespective of whether the victim fought back.

While there might be a consensus that the definition needs to be broadened, there remains a heated debate on how this could be done.

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Two different approaches have almost similar backing: “no means no” and “only yes means yes”.

While they may seem similar there’s a subtle difference between the two. As per the former approach, a sexual act can be considered rape if a person “explicitly” objects. Meanwhile the latter categorises any sexual act that was performed without explicit consent as rape.

Earlier this year Switzerland’s upper house of parliament, the Council of States voted for the “no means no” approach. 

However, the Monday vote by the lower house backs “only yes means yes”. The option has already been taken up by a number of European nations including Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.

Emotions ran high during the debate on Monday, with 99 lawmakers voting for the significantly radical approach. 88 were in opposition and there three abstained from voting.

Hailing the vote as “a huge success” Amnesty International said it comes “after years of activist activity for the rights of women, of sexual abuse victims.”

Tamara Funiciello, a Socialist member of parliament according to the ATS news agency while backing the motion said “It is obvious that you don’t take money out of your neighbour’s wallet without asking. It is obvious that you don’t enter someone’s home without ringing the bell”.

“Why should my wallet and my home be better protected than my body?” she questioned the floor.

However, right-leaning members of the Swiss parliament oppose the approach. In their opinion, it creates confusion and will be difficult to put into practice.

The two houses will now have to debate, and reach common ground before an amendment to the law can move forward. Following this under the nation’s direct democratic system it will likely go to a popular vote.

(With inputs from agencies)

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