Why we need „Yes means Yes“ instead of „No means No“
This article contains topics such as sexual violence, rape, bullying and psychological violence.
Find the German version of this article here.
It’s been over a week since a noticeable shit storm took place on the Internet.
It was initiated by the renowned German publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch (KiWi) publishing a book of poems by Rammstein lead singer Till Lindemann. This book includes a rape fantasy poem, where roofies are mixed into the victim’s drink.
Survivors of such violence staged protests in response, which in turn led to Helge Malchow, Editor-at-Large at Kiepenheuer & Witsch, issuing a public statement:
“The moral outrage about the text of this poem is based on a confusion of the fictional speaker, a so-called ‘lyrical self’ with the author Till Lindemann”.
This led to even more protests, and rightly so.
But I’ll come back to that in a minute.
A shit storm usually calms down quickly, but this incident is stuck in my mind, and so I would like to share what happened behind the scenes in my life and what I want for the future.
I went to the post office to send some packages last Saturday morning. While waiting in the queue (of course keeping some Corona-related distance), I read an Instagram story from my friend Kristina Lunz that a follower had shared.
Kristina is a feminist activist, co-founder and German director of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy and advisor to the German Foreign Office.
In her story, she shared the exact wording of both the poem and the publisher’s response.
Both hit me like a slap in the face, my heart began to race, and a feeling of paralysis spread across my body.
I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
I was raped in 2012, and have experienced many more sexual assaults in my life. In 2007, I became the victim of a violent transphobic assault, which traumatizes me to this day. I have been talking about this publicly since 2015.
But this does not mean that I am completely healed from this experience.
I get triggered – a psychological phenomenon that affects many people who have experienced violence.
I experience PTSD symptoms especially when cases of sexual violence are discussed in the media and nobody is listening to the victims, or when I witness how these victims are degraded, stigmatised or simply not believed.
Or when perpetrators are excused and exonerated.
This has happened several times in recent years, for example, when the German woman Gina-Lisa Lohfink stood trial, when Christina Blasey Ford testified against Brett Kavanagh, when Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein stood trial.
There are private situations like when I was invited as a speaker at a conference in Portugal last year, and a t-shirt signed by the football player Ronaldo was raffled off as part of the local charity effort.
Ronaldo was accused of rape and denounced by an American woman – there was an out-of-court settlement, as well as a civil lawsuit that was eventually dropped. However, this does not mean that the accused is innocent, but rather that he has more power and money than the plaintiff.
So-called “financial settlements” are, by the way, common practice in the US. Weinstein paid off victims for decades, as did the current president Donald Trump. There is even a separate Wikipedia page about cases where Trump was accused of sexual assault.
When I asked one of the organisers in Portugal about the Ronaldo case, his only response was “This woman is a dirty liar who is only after his money!”.
I started shaking and to protect myself I said, “I don’t want to talk about this topic anymore”. I was due to go on stage to give my talk 20 minutes later, despite feeling very upset and triggered. It was extremely difficult to pretend that everything was fine.
I somehow managed to give the talk. Afterwards I confided in two women at the conference who were incredibly supportive, and had a long phone call with my partner.
As pleasant as the conference was at the end of the day, this experience overshadowed my whole trip. To this day, I still postpone writing the organiser and explaining what his statement had triggered in me.
False accusations are only one part of the problem associated with sexual violence.
The great feminist and journalist Teresa Bücker once tweeted:
“I really don’t understand why the fear of false accusations is so high. Hardly any man will ever experience this – start working together on solutions to end sexual violence; elevating the numbers of false accusations is the wrong approach. On the contrary: Those who report sexual violence have a lot to lose. This is why the vast majority of all assaults are never reported. A false accusation is probably the least successful way for a woman to achieve something in her life. It is an absolute myth that false accusations are a popular strategy of revenge for women – or that they even want to become famous as a result. The risk for a man to become a victim of sexual violence himself is a lot higher than to be falsely accused of rape by a woman at some point in his life.” (source: Twitter, original quote in German)
And I can tell you from my own experience, there’s nothing more shitty and unpleasant than to talk about it.
It’s not fun. It hurts. And it takes strength. Every single time.
It has taken years to free myself from the role of a victim and to overcome the shame with which victims are systematically silenced.
Considering that this takes so much strength even for me – an outspoken and self-confident person – you can easily imagine how it is simply impossible for many survivors, especially in a situation where hardly anyone believes them.
(Side note: There are hardly any representative studies on unreported cases, false accusations, and convictions, BECAUSE the German legal system still makes life difficult for victims and protects perpetrators, and does not lead to representative results. Meanwhile, I have conducted my own studies. Since speaking about this topic publicly for the first time, I have received many messages from other survivors. Most cases were not reported and there was hardly ever a conviction. In many cases, the perpetrators were (ex-) partners, friends, confidants, who made the victims emotionally dependent or emotionally blackmailed them afterwards.)
I would like to come back to Lindemann’s rape poem.
After returning home and contacting Kristina, I decided to post an Instagram Story about the topic as well. Shortly after that, I started receiving messages from victims who were also feeling re-traumatised.
Two cases particularly shocked me.
The first case was a young woman who was attacked in December. According to her statement, the perpetrator was unable to rape her as her menstrual cup was blocking her vagina. He got so frustrated that he severely injured her instead, breaking her nose, both sinuses and her cheek bone.
She wrote: “It is unbelievable that you are beaten up and found with your pants down and your bra pulled-up, and some people still don’t want to see this as a sexual assault”.
The second case is the story of Nina Fuchs, who was raped seven years ago after someone had spiked her drink.
Five years later, the perpetrator was identified by means of his DNA. Nevertheless, the prosecution has dropped the case.
With the help of a petition, Nina is fighting for so-called enforcement proceedings. The prospect of a trial and a conviction of the perpetrator in such procedures is extremely low.
We started texting each other and decided to talk on the phone. We talked for more than 2 hours the following day.
Nina is an incredibly clear, strong, and focused woman who, like me, has managed to free herself from the victim role in order to raise her voice for those who don’t have a voice.
She wrote an open letter addressed to Till Lindemann, the editor Alexander Gorkow (the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung) and Helge Malchow, representing the Kiepenheuer & Witsch publishing house.
I tried to leverage my good press contacts to help her find a platform willing to publish it.
About 48 hours later, we sadly had to acknowledge the fact that neither the left-liberal daily newspaper, the progressive young online medium, nor the local weekly magazine wanted to publish this letter.
Although it was argued several times that in principle, they don’t publish open letters in general or were unable to react so quickly, we suspect that the addressed older white men have quite a strong influence in media circles, and that nobody wants to mess with them.
But then, a few hours after having sent the letter to the editors of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, it was clear that the letter must have been circulated internally, as she received a personal email from KiWi publisher Helge Malchow.
Since it is a private message, I can only paraphrase his words.
The structure of the message resembles the structure of his public statement.
First of all, Malchow addresses Nina as a victim. He explicitly speaks out against glorifying sexual violence out of consideration for victims like Nina, for reasons of compassion and on general moral grounds.
A phenomenon that we constantly observe in this context:
Dissociation from violence, supposed solidarity with the victims and the associated desire to withdraw oneself from moral responsibility.
Finally, he claimed that any connection between the survivors’ protests and his publication is a “misunderstanding” that resulted from a lack of understanding of art and culture. In other words, a lack of intellectual capacity for abstraction on the part of the victims.
This is followed by a paragraph of #mansplaining par excellence, in which he presumptuously uses Paul Schrader’s “Taxi Driver” as the basis to legitimize the depiction of violence in an artistic context to the woman who was drugged and raped.
At this point, I just need to shout STOP!
As Kristina Lunz has already stated in her video, it is ALWAYS about power. About the power and dominance of interpretation.
The culture and art that Malchow describes is shaped by a patriarchal world and point of view that traditionally places the male perspective above basic female needs. In which it is perfectly normal that women in film and literature are considered inferior and subject to objectification.
This culture has a long tradition in which the suppression of female lust and sexuality and the predominance of male fantasies determines the interpretation, to such an extent that many people, especially privileged white men, do not even notice it.
They have been socialised in this way, and their view and development has determined their entire life and artistic work, in which other more diverse perspectives play merely a peripheral role.
So why on earth should people affected by systemic sexual violence have the right to establish a link between the cultural glorification of such violence and what happened to them?
Or simply a misunderstanding?
Why should the survivors be allowed to get upset when some people’s “art” triggers post-traumatic stress syndrome in them?
Why is the artistic freedom of individuals valued more than the pain and trauma of many?
Nobody speaks about censorship, but isn’t it about time our society discusses how such topics are presented in film, art, and literature, and HOW WE DEAL WITH THE PAIN OF VICTIMS?
We need a paradigm shift; we need to rethink the boundaries and not discuss the limits of the freedom of art, but the (moral) OBLIGATION of art instead.
Because people suffer due to it and have always suffered.
An artist like Till Lindemann has systematically broken taboos since the beginning of his career.
Nowadays he does it in such a calculated and tasteless manner, that it is quite surprising that so many people still applaud him.
And this is exactly the problem.
Publishing such a text is a strategy for someone like Lindemann, because this kind of shit storm is a calculated PR move. He knows it will “work”.
There may be some people who gather at Rammstein concerts to view the spectacle in an “ironically reflected” way, but there is also a huge group of fans and followers who thoughtlessly indulge in Lindemann’s violent fantasies and have never heard of a “lyrical self”.
(Pop-)culture has an undeniable influence on our society. I don’t want to suggest that such texts incite acts of violence, but rather that a culture in which such texts are not even allowed to be criticised is undeniably the breeding ground for such acts.
By having his “work” praised, acknowledged, and defended by the arts sector, his stage becomes even bigger. He is a famous, privileged white man, whose artistic freedom is valued above the trauma of people who have been victims of acts of violence.
It is essential that this is power of art and its effects on our society is criticised and reconsidered.
When someone asks me what I would like to see in the world, I always say:
I wish for unconditional empathy for all survivors. I wish that people like Lindemann, Malchow, and Gorkow would just listen.
I wish that they would receive all the messages that I have been getting since 2015, and get a feeling for how incredibly high the number of unreported sexual crimes must be.
Every time I talk about it in public, it’s like a tap being opened and stories pouring out:
Stories of despair, pain, hurt, degradation, humiliation, bullying, submission, blackmail.
I would like us to tackle the topic together as society and that EVERYBODY participates.
I also wish that, as is already legally enshrined in Spain and Sweden, “No means no” becomes “Only yes means yes”.
We need to promote a culture of consent in Germany.
Although there are experts who claim that the German criminal law on sexual offences which was reformed in 2016 actually already contains this principle, this is not sufficiently accounted for in the jurisdiction.
The problem is that a clear principle of consent, where „only yes means yes”, is not anchored in the updated criminal law on sexual offences. Even if the addition „unless he [the perpetrator] has assured himself of the consent of this person“ appears in Sec. 177 Para. 2 (2), it is extremely questionable how a person who is „due to their physical or psychological condition considerably restricted in the formation or expression of their will“ should be able to give their consent at all. This seems to be very contradictory. Although those who are unable to express a clear „no“ because of knock-out drops, immobility, unconsciousness etc. are taken into account by this paragraph, a clear consensus that any non-consensual sexual intercourse is rape is simply missing.
This would imply that it is not only the victim who has to prove that they have explicitly said “no”, but also that the accused must prove that they have received a consenting “yes”, which would mean an enormous shift in jurisdiction.
One more addendum on statistics:
The case of Nina Fuchs would fall in the category of “false accusations” in case of a final acquittal, despite there being proven DNA traces. It is therefore important to more precisely consider how the existing statistics are arrived at and interpreted.
I would like to end this text on a positive note.
I am happy that this incident has brought me into contact with Nina and that I have found another ally.
Nina is planning to found a non-profit organisation in the near future and I will support her with all means.
We need radical changes to protect those who don’t have a voice.
And this is only the beginning…
Header photo: Annabell Sievert