Austria’s Groping Denial

By: C.B. Misbach

 

The Austrian Justice Ministry has once again rejected “the bum law.”  Though it may sound like a legislative joke, this law is not only serious but so obviously necessary that it’s hard to believe it has been rejected….again.  Put simply, “the bum law” would outlaw groping another person’s butt without his or (much more likely) her consent. 

         Yes, it is currently legal to grope a stranger’s behind in Austria.  There is apparently even an Austrian school headmaster that fondles the rear-ends of his female students with impunity.  You may ask, why is this allowed to happen?  According to the Austrian Justice Ministry, the answer is that Austrian sex assault laws only outlaw non-consensual contact that is “more than fleeting” and was upon a “primary or secondary sexual organ.”  Thus, since the butt is not a “sexual organ,” it may be molested without consent. 

          As far as I can tell, the Austrian Justice Ministry either only employs men, or employs some of the strictest statutory constructionists I’ve ever heard of.  This is legal formalism at its worst.  If any consideration at all were given to the policy behind sex assault laws, surely “the bum law” would quickly have been recognized as appropriate and long overdue. 

         What policy purpose could there be behind restricting anti-groping laws to only sexual organs?  Groping is not going to result in pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.  The purpose of these laws is to forbid the violation that comes from selfishly using another person’s body for your own sexual gratification.  Can the people of the Justice Ministry really think that the butt isn’t an object of sexual desire?  Or that it is so rarely seen that way that it’s more akin to someone having a foot fetish? 

         It’s sad, but I can’t help but suspect that a man (or men) made this decision.  As a man myself, I have to admit that I (probably much like the man at the Justice Ministry) have no idea what it’s like to be objectified and used the way women often are.  Be that as it may, it is no excuse for ignoring the blatantly obvious fact that using women that way is wrong, and should be criminal.  This decision of the Justice Ministry suffers from the same defect that marks so many decisions made by uncaring powerful elite: it shows no attempt to see the world as others do. 

            We may never fully understand what it is like to be of another gender, race, religion, or background, but it’s no excuse for not trying.  Even a token effort can save us from decisions as harmful as appears to have been made in Austria.

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One thought on “Austria’s Groping Denial

  1. Nicely done blog post. I’m impressed that you found such an obscure (in the media that I pay attention to) story that very much needs to be in the public eye, and I whole-heartedly agree with your conclusions. Excellent job.

    I’d only point out that I don’t think the limitation of the definition of sexual assault necessarily means that the “Austrian Justice Ministry either only employs men, or employs some of the strictest statutory constructionists I’ve ever heard of.” First of all, have you ignored all stereotypes about the obsessively precise German? (kidding of course since tone doesn’t translate to writing all that well). More importantly, precise construction seems to be a problem with US laws on sexual assault too. There must be a reason that New Mexico’s law goes out of it’s way to define criminal sexual contact with a minor to include “For the purposes of this section, “intimate parts” means the primary genital area, groin, buttocks, anus or breast.” N.M.S.A. 30-9-13. Arizona and Colorado law give similarly extensive definitions of what constitutes sexual contact in A.R.S. 13-1401, C.R.S.A. 18-3-401(2).

    I don’t particularly feel the urge to dig through the historical reasons why our states felt the need to precisely define sexual contact, but it seems likely that the definitions were crafted to avoid the exact same issues that the Austrian definition is facing now. Lawyers get paid to pick at ambiguities, and it’s not surprising that bizarre definitions sometimes take hold when a statute is open-ended. It’s amusing when it results in a 10 page warning label for a children’s toy, but it’s obviously much more serious when it results in a definition of sexual assault that leaves victims unprotected.

    That said, the states that I’m aware of have fixed this issue, statutorily or otherwise. It’s the 21st century. You’re absolutely correct that Austria needs to get this figured out too, no matter the reason for its current inadequate definition.

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