Sexual assault, harassment laws to get stricter: Justice Min

Hands clutching bed linen
Hands clutching bed linen Photo: KateNovikova/DepositPhotos

The Netherlands is implementing stricter laws around sex crimes, according to a new legislative proposal Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security announced. Under the new law you can be punished both if you know the other person did not want to have sex, and if you could have known that. When in doubt, the person initiating sexual acts has the duty to ask whether the other person is okay with what is happening, under the new law, NOS reports.

Offenses like rape and sexual assault have long been punishable in the Netherlands, but they are sometimes difficult to prove. This happens, for example, if no violence was used or if the victim froze out of fear and therefore could not express themselves or resist. As a solution, the Minister now wants to add to the law around sex crime so that the criterion changes from coercion to sex against the will. That means that the Public Prosecutor will no longer have to prove that the victim explicitly said no, resisted or could not evade sexual acts. Instead the Prosecutor will have to show that the sexual acts happened against the victim's will.

Last year Sweden implemented a law obliging people to ask for explicit permission before engaging in sexual activities. Grapperhaus thinks that this goes too far, but he wants to put a greater responsibility on the person who initiates sex. Which is why he is making it punishable to have sex with someone you know doesn't want to and if you could have know they don't want to. 

No means no, Grapperhaus explained, but the absence of an explicit "no" does not necessarily mean "yes". If the other person does not clearly express themselves, you have the duty to inquire whether the person really wants to have sex with you, according to the Minister. If someone stiffens or signals in another way, you must be alert and ask questions. Those who don't make absolutely sure that the sex they are having is consensual, can be punished.

Penetration against the will can be punished by up to six years in prison, according to the new bill. Less serious sex crimes, like groping against the will, can be punished with a maximum prison sentence of four years.

The government is also making sexual harassment a criminal offense, both online and on the street. "It is not normal to touch women or men on the street to humiliate or hurt them", Grapperhaus said. People must feel safe and able to be themselves unhindered, he said.

In the coming months Grapperhaus will investigate how these new laws can best be implemented and what that will cost. The expectation is that he will submit the final bill at the end of this year. 

The Justice Minister announced this bill shortly after his State Secretary Mark Harbers resigned. The State Secretary of Justice and Security, who is responsible for asylum, stepped down after it became known that his Ministry deliberately reported incomplete figures on crimes committed by asylum seekers in a report.