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CRIME

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victim for “the signals she sent out to the men”, referencing behaviour in the club where they met where the woman had withdrawn to a toilet with another man.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

FACT CHECK: Do foreigners commit more violent crimes than the Swiss?

Around 25 percent of the Swiss population is of foreign origin. Is the crime rate really higher among them?

FACT CHECK: Do foreigners commit more violent crimes than the Swiss?

Crime rates among foreign residents is a frequent political talking point in Switzerland, particularly among the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP). 

Police in Zurich were forced to provide the nationality of all offenders after an SVP-supported referendum in January 2021 required them to do so

However, new statistics show that most crimes in Switzerland are committed by foreign nationals, including those of a violent nature.

Foreigners — including permanent residents, asylum seekers and tourists — commit more offences with a violent nature than native Swiss, according to data published by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) in October 2021.

Of the 270 attempted homicides registered in Switzerland in 2020, 99 — almost 33 percent — were committed by Swiss people. The other cases are attributed to foreign nationals.

The FSO also found that Swiss citizens were responsible for less than half of the cases in which a serious bodily injury was inflicted on a victim: 317 out of the total of 712 registered acts, which translates to 45 percent; the remaining 55 percent of these crimes were committed by foreigners.

In both cases this is a higher percentage than that of foreigners as a part of the Swiss population. 

According to Switzerland’s Federal Office of Statistics, foreigners made up 25.1 percent of the population at the end of 2020. While this figure does not include tourists, it is still higher than the 33 percent and 55 percent figures listed above. 

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland do all the international residents live?

The study didn’t altogether absolve the Swiss.

“Foreigners commit violent crimes more often, but that doesn’t mean that the Swiss don’t do the same”, Baier said.

“There are many Swiss who think they have a right to hit anyone who looks at them in a wrong way”.

For instance, in the past six years, serious physical injuries have been inflicted by Swiss people more often than by foreign nationally, especially among those under 24 year of age, FSO reported.

In 2020, nearly half of all crimes were committed by Swiss people; however, these figures have to be put in perspective: since foreign residents constitute only around a quarter of the total population, an above-average number of offenses were committed by foreigners, even among young suspects.

Why do foreigners have a higher rate of violent crime in Switzerland?

There are two explanations why people of foreign origin resort to violence more often that their Swiss counterparts.

According to Dirk Baier, violence researcher at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, the lower level of income and education among foreign residents is one of the reasons.

“This economic disadvantage can lead to a corresponding reaction: what you cannot buy, you can steal”, he told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes.

Baier said that these factors were far more important than if someone was a foreigner or not. 

“If you consider young people who have roughly the same attitudes and social conditions, you no longer see any differences in the violent behaviour of Swiss and foreigners”.

Living conditions of these economically disadvantaged groups is also a contributing factor.

“They live in smaller apartments and often with several siblings. Those who spend a lot of time in public space are also more likely to get into conflicts that can escalate into violence”.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: Which Swiss cities have the highest crime rates?

Baier added that “the increased propensity for violence among foreigners has nothing to do with biology or genes. It is created by external circumstances – and consequently something can be done about it”.

This is echoed by statements from the Swiss government on crime rates of all forms (i.e. not just violent crime)

“The differences between foreigners and Swiss are relatively small when one takes into account the different age and gender structures. If one only considers the resident population (i.e. leaves out asylum seekers and tourists or travellers passing through), the differences are almost completely absent.”

How can this be prevented or curbed?

One way to counteract this trend, Baier said, is to introduce children with a migration background to the education system at an early stage, for example through language lessons.

“Anyone who understands and communicates in the language of the country in which they live will be less likely to resort to violence”.

There are also other social-cultural factors at play.

“This includes the family situation in which someone grows up. If he or she has  a form of upbringing that is characterised by the dominance of the father who uses violence himself, the child is socialised accordingly”, Baier noted.

“An honour to be defended or the protection of the family also made a number of people of foreign origin react more quickly to aggressive stimuli”, he added.

Baier said the government could do more, but was often held back by a cultural reluctance to intervene in family matters. 

“Switzerland could still do a lot here, the reluctance to interfere in family matters is still very great.”

READ MORE: Why do foreigners ‘commit more violent crimes’ than the Swiss?

What nationalities are most implicated in Swiss crime statistics?

People from these 10 countries committed the most crimes, FSO found:

1. Portugal: 1014

2. Italy :866

3. Other nationalities: 827

4. Kosovo: 656

5. Germany: 589

6. Turkey: 435

7. France: 398

8. Serbia and Montenegro: 385

9. North Macedonia: 328

10. Spain: 289

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