The dismissal of a high-profile rape case in Germany has prompted a "No Means No" campaign with overtones of the outrage that greeted the recent U.S. sexual assault case involving a Stanford University swimmer.
A German model said she was drugged and raped by two men after a night of drinking in a Berlin club. Now she is fighting a court ruling, issued earlier this month, that not only dismissed the charges but also fined her the equivalent of $27,000.
Gina-Lisa Lohfink, a TV celebrity and aspiring model in Germany who said she would rather go to jail than pay the court's fine, has received widespread backing for her "No Means No" campaign. Among her supporters is a government minister who has said the country's sex crime laws are too lax and need to be toughened.
The attorneys representing the two men, who also were charged in court with disseminating videos they made of their actions with Lohfink in June 2012, argued in court that it was consensual sex.
"There's something wrong with our justice system," Lohfink, 29, was quoted in German magazine Der Spiegel. "My impression is that the police and state prosecutors aren't taking me seriously."
Despite vastly different circumstances, the case has resonated in Germany in ways similar to that of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner in the United States. Turner was convicted in March of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman he had met at a fraternity party; outrage has stemmed from the judge's lenient sentence of six months in county jail.
Lohfink said she initially had no recollection of what happened on the night of June 2, 2012. She told the Berlin court she was partying with a group that included the two men, one of whom she had had sex with the night before, and she thinks someone put something into her drink. She said she blacked out after that.
The two men had uploaded video to the Internet of their actions with Lohfink, in which she is heard saying, "Stop it, stop it" and "no," according to German media reports. (The video has since been taken down.) When Lohfink found out about the video about two weeks later, she went to the police and filed charges of rape and disseminating the video without her permission.
State prosecutors argued in court against Lohfink, and the judge agreed, fining her 24,000 euros for falsely testifying. She has appealed the lower court's decision; the appeal will be heard June 27.
"That Gina has gone from being the victim to the offender is a disastrous signal to every woman out who would one day face the choice of pressing charges [against a rapist] or not," said Lohfink's attorney, Burkhard Benecken. "Fewer women are going to end up going to the police for help in the future if there's a risk that their view of the incident could be turned against them and they could face charges."
Germany's family minister, Manuela Schwesig, said that the case showed that Germany needs tougher laws to protect rape victims.
"When someone says, 'No,' that has to mean 'no,' " Schwesig told German TV. "When someone says, 'Stop it,' that ought to be clear enough for anyone. We need to tighten up the laws on sexual crimes to protect everyone's own sexual determination without conditions."
But the judge and state prosecutors have been supported by the justice minister in the state of Berlin, who said the prosecutors were extremely diligent in their study of the case before they concluded that Lohfink had engaged in sex with the two men willingly.
"This is a case that is drawing a lot of attention, and it's demonstrated that when someone says, 'No,' that means 'no,' " said Christian Pfeiffer, a former justice minister in Lower Saxony state. "But it's actually not a good case to use as an argument for tightening the laws. The judge in this case took into consideration all the available film and concluded it was not rape. Based on the evidence presented, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the rape charges."
Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.