Slovenia amends penal code, redefines sexual consent

The passage of the amendments on 5 June capped two and a half years of at times tense debates that started when a man who raped a drunk woman was charged with criminal coercion rather than rape because the woman, passed out drunk in the man’s apartment, did not – and could not – resist. [Shutterstock/Artur Szczybylo]

The Slovenian parliament has passed amendments to the penal code that redefine sexual consent in line with the concept “only yes means yes”, a profound change compared to the current system in which rape was only legally considered rape if it involved physical coercion or grave threats.

The passage of the amendments on 5 June capped two and a half years of at times tense debates sparked by a rape case in which an attacker was charged with criminal coercion rather than rape because his victim was unconscious and unable to resist. 

The case energised the Slovenian #MeToo movement and prompted a strong grassroots campaign that at times clashed with government reticence about a change seen by some as too radical. Institute 8 March, a feminist NGO that spearheaded the campaign, even started collecting voter signatures to push through a citizens’ legislative initiative, at which point the government tabled its own legislative motion.

During the debate in parliament, MPs acknowledged that credit for the legislation should go to the NGOs that mobilised the public.

Darja Zaviršek, chair of the Department of Social Justice and Inclusion at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Ljubljana, described the legislative change as a “gigantic step towards formal equality between men and women” that will lead to a new understanding of human relations. (Sebastijan R. Maček | STA)

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