Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately said that a former Stanford University swimmer was convicted of rape; he was convicted of sexual assault. The story has been corrected.
BERLIN – A 29-year-old German model was, according to her own account, drugged and raped by two men who filmed the ordeal and then posted it online. The woman pressed charges. But a judge gave the men a light fine for the incident while ordering the alleged victim to pay the equivalent of $27,000.
The judge — whose name was not disclosed — offered a nuanced argument for the surprise ruling. During the act, the alleged victim, the judge ruled, had said “No!” to the filming but not to sex. Therefore, the model’s claim of rape, the court decided, was false, fining her accordingly.
The verdict against Gina-Lisa Lohfink is part of an increasingly heated debate on both sides of the Atlantic over the judicial handling of sexual crimes. The light sentence for a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexual assault has sparked broad outrage in the United States. Meanwhile, the Lohfink case – gathering headlines here as it heads to appeal on June 27 — is deeply dividing Germany, while adding fuel to a “No means no!” campaign seeking to broaden the definition of rape in Western Europe’s most populous nation.
“They are turning me from a victim into an offender,” Lohfink, a former contestant on “Germany’s Next Top Model,” told Der Spiegel ’s online edition. “Do I have to be killed first? Will the legal authorities only get it then?”
In this country long criticized by women’s rights groups for what they call relatively weak rape laws, polls show that more than 86 percent of the public now favor stricter codes. Current law states that saying “No!” to sex is not enough to constitute rape: The victim must also show evidence of physical resistance.
That definition has meant, rights groups say, that a plethora of alleged rapists have gone unpunished. They cite, for instance, an alleged assailant accused of sexually assaulting a pregnant woman in 2012. The courts let him off because the victim – who said she feared for the safety of her unborn child – did not fight back.
Under pressure, German lawmakers are now moving to change laws to state that verbal resistance— for example, saying “No!” — can be enough to constitute rape. Responding to a series of assaults on New Year’s Eve allegedly committed by suspects including asylum seekers, the new laws would also punish aggressive groping by an individual or groups.
“We need a tightening of the sex-crime legislation, so that finally sexual self-determination will be protected unconditionally in Germany,” Germany’s minister of family issues, Manuela Schwesig, told Spiegel Online this month in reference to the Lohfink case. “ ‘Stop it!’ is clear enough.”
But critics insist that the move will only open the door to more false accusations.
“Of course a woman needs to be protected by the law even if she looks like a Barbie doll,” Svenja Fläßpöhler wrote this week in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. But, the writer added, there is a danger that “men are accused out of revenge . . . or regret for the consummated act.”
No case is dividing Germany more thanLohfink’s, whose punishment by the court has not only outraged critics, it has also generated a storm of accusations against her.
In social media and among outspoken pundits, she is being portrayed as a platinum-blond seductress and attention freak who falsely accused two men of rape. Others counter that Lohfink – a German media personality known for her scantily clad photos – is being unfairly treated specifically because of her free-spirited public persona.
The case goes back to 2012, when Lohfink first accused two men, identified only as Pardis F. and Sebastian C., of rape. She claims that they drugged her, had sex with her and filmed it all while refusing her pleas to stop
The video was later distributed on social media, although various sites have now taken it down. According to German media outlets that saw the video, Lohfink can be repeatedly heard saying “Stop it!” and “No!” in the footage.
But in January, the court ruled that an analysis of the video and other evidence suggested that Lohfink had protested only the filming and appeared to consent to the sex. That determination, according to Martin Steltner, a spokesman for the Berlin prosecutor’s office, had also taken into account the fact that Lohfink had initially accused the men of wrongful filming and distribution of the sex tape and only later accused them of rape.
The court did find the two men guilty of wrongly making and distributing the sex video and fined them 1,350 euros ($1,500) each. But it reserved its gravest punishment for Lohfink, levying her a fine of 24,000 euros for falsely accusing the men.
Lohfink’s attorney, Burkhard Benecken, said his client had pressed only charges for film and distribution because her recollection of the incident was initially hazy. Parts of her memory surfaced, he said, after she saw the video in full. He criticized the court for parsing her “No!” to mean a request only to stop filming the act.
“She didn’t say ‘No, stop filming!’ She said ‘No, no, no!’ ” he said. “It's a daring theory to say that she referred to the filming. Does this mean a man can just continue without asking her what she means and later say, ‘Oh, I thought she said ‘No!’ because the music was too loud, or the light was blinding her?’ ”
A movement in support of Lohfink hasgone viral under the hashtag #TeamGinaLisa. Her supporters have been particularly outraged that her character and personality have come under assault, with articles and social media posts commenting on her platinum blonde hair and breast implants.
They are painting “an image of someone who isn’t credible. . . . Often she was simply described as ‘the blonde,’ which would never happen, if she had been a man,” said the German feminist blogger Anne Wizorek, who has rallied to Lohfink’s side. “By evoking such images, a judgment is basically being cast on her.”
She called the assaults on Lohfink a mirror on German culture that showed “how deeply rooted the idea still is in our society that women use their sexuality to take revenge and that they cannot be trusted.”