Germany is moving to update its criminal law for sexual assaults and rape, which women's groups have criticised for gaps in defining the crime. Germany is currently dealing with widespread anger over a series of sexual assaults in several cities, in which many asylum-seekers have been identified as suspects.
An amendment to the current rape law, proposed by Germany's Interior Ministry, has been given a push in the legislative process and has been forwarded to regional governments in the country after months of being stalled by Angela Merkel's chancellery, Deustche Welle reported.
At present, the criminal code defines rape as sexual coercion carried out either by force, by threat of imminent danger to life or limb, or by exploiting a situation in which the victim is unprotected and at the mercy of the offender. It does not explicitly mention the need for consent.
Women's groups have criticised the law for its apparent loopholes in covering cases of surprise sexual assaults and groping, as what occurred with scores of women during New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Duesseldorf and Frankfurt.
"Surprise acts happen, as they probably did in Cologne. When you're groped on the breast or under the skirt, I can imagine that you could initially be so shaken that you don't say anything, and then, according to the current interpretation of the law, that may not be punished as sexual assault," Elke Ferner, a member of the Social Democratic Party's women's group, told Deutsche Welle.
The German Police are currently investigating a horde of complaints from women who said they were sexually assaulted when they were out in public places on 31 December.
Cologne has seen nearly 170 such complaints registered, and the police chief of the city has now reportedly been suspended for concealing information that many of the suspects were asylum-seekers.
The wave of anger over the sexual assaults is likely to stoke tensions in the country that has taken in more than a million migrants over the past year, many from conflict regions such as Iraq and Syria.