New act to address sexual offences enters into force on July 1, 2024

Victims of sexual assault and sexually transgressive behaviour will be better protected under the criminal legislation as of 1 July this year. This week, the Senate approved a broad revision of legislation through the Sexual Offences Act by Justice and Security Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius. Victims will soon be able to report rape and sexual assault in more cases. Sexual harassment in public will also become a criminal offence; this can take place on the street, but also on public websites and social media, for example. In addition, sexual communication will be criminalised, the maximum penalties for some offences will increase and the legislation will be digitally modernised. As a guiding principle, the new legislation ensures that sexual assault and sexually transgressive behaviour are equally sanctionable both offline and online.

Minister Yeşilgöz: "With this act, we are setting a clear standard: sex should always be consensual and equal. Someone is acting criminally if they know - or should have known - that the other person does not want to do something but continues regardless. Current legislation on sexual assault no longer aligns with what society considers acceptable behaviour. Sexual abuse has profound and long-lasting effects on people's lives. Sexual harassment must also be addressed more vigorously. It is unacceptable that streets are avoided and that people - often women and children - cannot navigate the internet and social media safely for fear of sexual harassment from others."

Rape and sexual assault offences

To substantiate rape or sexual assault, it is no longer necessary to prove that force was involved, through the use or threat of violence, for example. A person is punishable if they continue sexual contact while there are clear signs that the other person does not want to engage in sex. Force, although now an aggravating factor, is no longer a requirement for a rape or sexual assault conviction. Anyone initiating sexual contact must be alert to the other person wanting the same. If this is not clear, check how the other person feels about the situation.

Clear signs of a lack of will include explicit verbal or physical withholding behaviour but can also consist of non-verbal signals or a passive attitude, such as freezing the body out of fear. It remains true of sexual offences that evidence can be difficult to obtain in concrete cases. It often involves a one-on-one situation with no witnesses. If the accused then denies the charges, it comes down to the word of one against the other. Supporting evidence is then necessary, such as traces on the body, camera images and, for example, text messages. Another important point is that under the new law, rape is not subject to a statute of limitations. Victims are free to decide whether and when to report the offence.

Online and offline

With the increasing use of the internet, social media and smartphones, online sexual contact has increased. This makes it possible to commit sexual offences remotely as well. Children are especially vulnerable to online sexual abuse. The Sexual Offences Act, for example, criminalises so-called sex-chatting: sexually approaching children below the age of 16, but also sexually approaching children aged 16 and 17 in a vulnerable position. Sex-chatting need not involve proposing to meet for sexual purposes. This is unlike grooming, which is already criminalised. This allows earlier action to be taken in the preliminary stages of the occurrence of true sexual abuse.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in public will also become a criminal offence. Sexual harassment makes many people feel unsafe. Someone may avoid certain streets or dress differently, for example. It also occurs online: for example, on social media or chat sites, that sexually harassing comments are made against others. This often has a major impact on people's sense of safety or dignity.

Higher penalties

In addition to new criminal offences, penalties are also increased for several sexual offences. Rape involving a child under 12, for example. For this, the prison sentence goes to a maximum of 15 years. If the child is between 12 and 16 years old, the prison sentence will be a maximum of 12 years. For child pornography, the maximum penalty is increased to 6 years' imprisonment.


For effective implementation of the new legislation, an implementation process was initiated about 1.5 years ago with the relevant parties, such as the police and the public prosecution service. This includes the drafting of operational guidelines, adjustments to ICT and training. Some 25,000 police officers, for example, are being trained in the new legislation so that they will be well prepared by 1 July 2024. This applies not only specifically to sexual investigators, but also, for instance, to intake officers at police stations.