Estonian ex-president Kaljulaid says consent law would help reduce domestic violence

  • 2024-01-15
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – Ex-president Kersti Kaljulaid said after a meeting with gynecologists and other people involved in violence prevention that the consent law would help control the domestic violence rampant in Estonian society.

"There is so much violence in our society that we are all affected by it in one way or another," Kaljulaid wrote on social media. "However, changing the culture of violence is a very long process, as is always the case with major social changes. It is necessary for our legal space to develop, it is necessary to carry out endless work of informing, leading and noticing, and do so in the whole society."

Kaljulaid stated that she definitely sees the consent law as a significant change in moving towards a non-violent society.

Consent law is a legal regulation of sexual violence, which is based on the principle that any kind of sexual intercourse against someone's will is a crime. Since in different countries offenses against sexual self-determination are regulated by the penal code or the criminal code, the consent law is usually not a separate law, but rather an integration of the principle of consent into the existing law.

The law of consent most often refers to the legal definition of rape, according to which sexual intercourse against someone's will or without consent is rape.

In Estonia, there is a definition of rape based on coercion or violence, according to which rape is sexual intercourse against someone's will, during which violence is used or a person's condition, in which they were unable to resist or understand what happened, is taken advantage of.

Unlike the approach based on coercion and violence, however, the consent-based definition of rape is based on the fact that any kind of sexual intercourse against someone's will is rape -- violence and exploitation of a helpless state are aggravating circumstances, not criteria by which to define rape.

In the spring of 2022, the European Commission proposed to adopt a directive that would oblige all member states of the European Union to change the definition of rape in their penal code to a consent-based one. In international law, consent is a central principle, because any sexual act without consent -- whether violent or not -- violates sexual autonomy. That is why it has been found at the international level that a consent-based approach to sexual violence ensures better protection for victims.

The advantage of a consent-based approach is a fairer administration of justice that is also less traumatizing to the victim and respectful of their human dignity. The consent-based approach takes into account the behavior and physiological reactions of victims of sexual violence, be it freezing up, where the victim is physically unable to resist, or befriending, which is a victim's unconscious self-preservation strategy so as not to upset the attacker. Also, the consent-based approach takes into account the fact that in the case of sexual intercourse against someone's will, the signs of violence are mostly not visible.

The consent-based approach harmonizes laws regulating sexual violence with modern sex education based on the principle of bodily autonomy. It also improves victims' trust in the state. For example, in Sweden and Denmark, where consent laws apply, rape reporting rates have skyrocketed. A larger number of reports provides information about the circumstances of sexual assaults, which in turn allows prevention activities to be better designed and directed to target groups.

Consent laws are already in force in 18 European countries. Outside of Europe, consent laws apply in, for example, Australia, several US states, Canada and New Zealand. In the European Union, in addition to the Baltics, Poland, Italy, France and most of the former Eastern Bloc countries do not have a consent law -- except for Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro, which have adopted a consent law.