For members


‘It only lasted 11 minutes’: Why this rape sentence has caused an outcry in Switzerland

The verdict in a rape trial in the canton of Basel has caused a widespread outcry in Switzerland, after the judge justified a shortened sentence because the rape had “only lasted for 11 minutes”.

‘It only lasted 11 minutes’: Why this rape sentence has caused an outcry in Switzerland
A close up image of a police car. Photo by Maximilian Scheffler on Unsplash

The incident took place in February 2020 in the Swiss city of Basel, where two men raped a 33-year-old woman in the entrance of her apartment in Elsässerstrasse. 

The sentence, which was handed down at the start of August, has caused controversy not only due to its lenient nature, but due to the mitigating factors cited by the judge in the case. 

One of the men was a minor and as such will be sentenced in juvenile court. The other, a 32-year-old man, had his sentenced reduced from 51 months to 36 months on appeal and as a result will be released from detention in a few days due to time already served. 

In reducing the sentence for the 32-year-old man on appeal, justice Liselotte Henz said there was only “moderate fault” for the perpetrator in the context of Swiss criminal law. 

While the court report has not yet been released, Swiss media has reported several aspects of the judgement seemed to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator for the attack. 

Several factors came into account in the reduced sentence, including that the attacks – which lasted 11 minutes – were “relatively short” and that there were no permanent physical injuries to the victim. 

The judge said the victim had been “playing with fire” in the lead up to the attacks. 

The judge also appeared to blame the victim for “the signals she sent out to the men”, referencing behaviour in the club where they met where the woman had withdrawn to a toilet with another man. 

As both men are Portuguese nationals, the sentences will include a period of deportation from the country, which is expected to be six years for the adult offender and is not yet set for the minor.

Protests and outcry in Switzerland

On Sunday, August 8th, around 500 people protested outside the appeals court in Basel where the verdict was handed down. 

Protesters at the rally, which police said was unauthorised but peaceful, carried signs emphasising the need for consent and chanted “11 minutes is 11 minutes too many”. 

Signs carried by the protesters said “there is no such thing as a short rape” and complained that the legal system “was sending the wrong signals” to the general public. 

The victim’s lawyer said she was shocked by the verdict. 

Agota Lavoyer, who runs a victim assistance organisation in the canton of Solothurn, said the “shameful” verdict “cements rape myths”. 

The verdict has attracted condemnation from across the political spectrum, with both left and right-wing political groups speaking out against it. 

Ronja Jansen, president of the Young Social Democrats (Just), said the verdict was likely to make women less willing to report sexual violence. 

“The fact that the woman is portrayed as an accomplice because she may have entered into contact with other men is a harmful mixture of consensual acts and rape.”

Marcel Columb, from the Basel Social Democrats, said it sent the wrong signals to victims of sexual violence. 

“A four year sentence was already mild, but now to imply the woman was complicity due to her behaviour to someone uninvolved with the crime is unbearable. What a sign for all victims of sexualised violence.”

Jérômie Repond, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, asked “What kind of society do we live in?” after the verdict, while party colleague Pascal Messerli said the sentence was too short when the victim would have to live with it her entire life. 

The victim and the Basel public prosecutor have said they will wait for the publication of the written ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the Swiss Federal Court. 

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For members


Why you might be stopped by the police in Switzerland

It goes without saying that you don’t want to attract the attention of law enforcement officers, regardless of your nationality. Here’s what you should know about the reasons you might be stopped in Switzerland.

Why you might be stopped by the police in Switzerland

One thing to know is that in many cases being questioned by police has nothing to do with your nationality.

For instance, you may be stopped while driving (along with other motorists) for a random identity and sobriety check, or you could be asked questions because you have witnessed a crime or a road accident.

In both of these cases, you have nothing to be concerned about — provided you are in Switzerland legally and have not committed any infractions yourself.

A different type of situation may arise if someone reports you as a law-breaker.

Whether you are guilty or innocent, police will have to question you to find out if accusations against you are true.

This is undeniably an unpleasant process through which you must go, even if you are innocent of all charges.

If this happens to you, go to the police station when summoned, bring any pertinent documents you need, and answer any questions truthfully — just as you would in your own country.

READ ALSO: Five Swiss laws foreigners are bound to commit

If you are not proficient enough in your canton’s language, inform the police ahead of time and they will provide an interpreter.

Depending on how the case evolves, you may need an attorney to represent you, which the court will appoint free of charge if you are unable to afford one yourself and don’t have legal insurance.

READ MORE: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland

Are there situations when you may be targeted specifically because you are a foreigner?

Yes, and these are the possible scenarios:

On the road

You are driving a car with a foreign registration, which corresponds to a vehicle being sought by police. In such a case you’d be pulled over and your documents would be checked to verify your identity.

You could be stopped for a random road check. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

You are in Switzerland illegally and are caught

If this happens, police will come knocking on your door and you’ll likely be given a certain period of time to leave the country or face deportation.

READ ALSO: When can a foreigner be ordered to leave Switzerland? 

You are sought by your nation of origin for crimes you committed there

Swiss police will extradite you back to your home country. (However, Switzerland doesn’t extradite for political offences, such as dissension, for instance, but only for criminal ones).

There are other situations as well when you might be breaking the law, even if inadvertently.

You drive on a Swiss motorway without a sticker

Unlike in Italy, France, and many other countries, Switzerland doesn’t have tolls — that is, roads where you have to stop and pay for using the road.

Instead, it has a motorway vignette, purchased annually, for 40 francs.

If you don’t have one affixed to your windshield and and are stopped by police, you could be fined 200 francs.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Switzerland’s motorway charge sticker

By the same token, you could be fined for noncomplying with a myriad of other driving rules, including some truly wacky ones, like eating a croissant behind the wheel of your car or taking your feet off the pedal while cycling.

Not recycling / disposing of your trash properly

If you are a new arrival, you may not yet know that the Swiss have very strict rules about how to pack and dispose of your waste in a correct manner.

You can’t just put it into a bag and throw it out haphazardly. Instead, you must use taxed bags (different for each canton), and put your trash away on designated days and in designated spots only.

If you fail to do so, you will be found out and fined, with the amount determined by your municipality.

This is definitely a ‘punishable’ offence. Photo: Pixabay

READ ALSO: What are Switzerland’s rules for waste disposal and recycling?

These are the legitimate reasons a foreigner would be stopped by Swiss police. But there are others as well:

Racial profiling

This happens when race or ethnicity are used as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed an offence.

This act is officially illegal, as Swiss legislation prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. 

There have, however, been instances when Swiss law enforcement officers have been accused of this practice.

One thing to keep in mind, whether you are Swiss or foreigner, is that police in Switzerland can’t arbitrarily ask a person to see their ID; they can only do so if there are reasonable grounds for such a request.

If that happens, you should always comply — even if you believe police are targetting you unjustifiably.