This week, after much political back and forth, Switzerland’s federal government moved close to updating the nation’s laws on sex crimes, including rape.
While the need to update the definition of rape, which is central to the legal revision, is uncontested, the details of the changes have proved controversial.
Broadly, much of the debate has related to consent. Should it be defined as the absence of “no” (no means no) or an explicit “yes” (only yes means yes)?.
Initially, the federal parliament favoured an explicit “yes” definition. However, the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house, was against this. It proposed an alternative version of “no”, which extends the definition of rape to an implicit “no” in situations when a victim is unable to say no because they are in a state of shock. The new definition also includes acting against a person’s will by surprising or deceiving them or by taking advantage of their vulnerability due to fear, intoxication, sleep, illness, and other states.
On 1 June 2023, parliament voted in favour of the Council of States’ alternative version of “no”. This means the “yes means yes” definition is now off the table.
In addition to expanding the definition of rape, parliament voted in favour of extending sex crimes beyond unwanted penetrative sexual acts to include other forms of sexual assault. It also agreed to text criminalising revenge pornography and to ensuring there is no statute of limitations on sex crimes against those aged 12 and below – parliament had originally wanted the cut off on this to be 16 years old.
The parliamentary vote was 105 in favour versus 74 against. Now that parliament has accepted these latest definitions the proposal will head back to the Council of States for its approval before the changes make their way into Switzerland’s statutes.