Police Cologne
Police outside Cologne train station in the wake of the mass sexual assaults in the city on New Year's EveSascha Schuermann/Getty Images

The German government is to tighten the country's rape laws in the wake of mass sexual assaults carried out in Cologne on New Year's Eve. On 16 March the cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved the measure, which still requires the approval of parliament.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas called the draft law "an important step toward strengthening sexual self-determination", AFP reported, and noted that there were "unacceptable gaps in protection" against sexual coercion and assault under German law. "It is high time that changes," he said in a statement. "We owe that to the victims."

Currently, sexual assault victims in Germany must prove not just that they verbally refused consent for sex, but that they physically resisted their assailant as well. Maas said that the new legislation would now cover cases in which the victim was taken by surprise, and threatened with violence, as was the case in many domestic abuse cases.

In the wake of the Cologne attacks, there were calls for the country's rape laws to be revised, with critics alleging that standards of proof were too high under them. In February, Cologne police admitted that they may never catch all of those responsible for the attacks, which sparked a national debate of the government's immigration policies.