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CRIME

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

A new study based on police statistics showed that 5.4 violent crimes were committed per 1,000 inhabitants across Switzerland in 2020. What was the situation in major cities?

IN NUMBERS: Which Swiss cities have the highest crime rates?
Despite a spate of infractions, the crime rate in Switzerland remains relatively low. Photo by Nathalie OLOF-ORS / AFP

The figures released by the Federal Statistical Office on Monday show that thefts were by far the most common offenses.

Bern

In 2020, 9.4 violent crimes were committed per 1,000 inhabitants in the country’s capital. Of those 1.7 involved assaults, 1.4 threats, 1.8 bodily harm, 2.3 threats and violence against officials and 1.1 robbery.

Additionally, 40.1 thefts (excluding shoplifting) were reported per 1,000 inhabitants. Of those 5.6 were break-ins, 11.4 involved stolen bicycles and 2 vehicle thefts.

Zurich

Switzerland’s largest city registered 11.1 violent crimes per 1,000 inhabitants, 2.9 assaults, 1.6 threats, 2.1 bodily harm, 1 threat and violence against officials, and 0.8 robberies.

There were 35 thefts (excluding shoplifting) per 1,000 inhabitants. Of those 7.1 were break-ins, 7.2 stolen bicycles and 2.4 vehicles.

READ MORE: Safety in Switzerland: Which areas do Zurich residents avoid at night?

Basel

There were 13.1 violent crimes per 1,000 inhabitants in Basel, 4.3 of these were assaults, 2.9 threats, 1.8 bodily harm, 1.7 threats and violence against officials, and 0.6 robbery.

Apart from shoplifting, there were 42.9 thefts per 1,000 inhabitants. 6.1 of these were break-ins, 13.4 were stolen bicycles, and 3.7 vehicle thefts. 

Geneva

Some 10.4 violent crimes per 1,000 inhabitants were recorded in 2020. Of these, 1.3 of were were assaults, 2.5 threats, 3.3 physical harm, 0.4 threats and violence against officials, and 1.2 robberies.

Also registered were 51.8 thefts (excluding shoplifting), of which 8.2 were break-ins and 6.1 were stolen bicycles, and 3.6 vehicle thefts.

What about the rest of Switzerland?

In smaller cities, the number of burglaries fell slightly, statistics show, but there is no mention of whether this was due to periods of confinement.

For instance, in La Chaux-de-Fonds there was a decrease of 1.8 cases per 1,000 inhabitants, in Lausanne it was 1.6, in Yverdon-les-Bains 1.4, in St. Gallen and Zurich, 1.2.

While overall there was a slight increase — from 5.3 to 5.4 per 1,000 — in violent crimes throughout the country, in some towns the numbers dropped: in Yverdon-les-Bains (minus 2.3 cases per 1,000), Fribourg (-0.8), Lausanne and Bellinzona (-0.7) .  However, the federal government stated that the frequency of violent crimes may be overestimated in some cities. 

How do you make sense of these figures? 

The best way is to put them in a larger context. Globally, Switzerland consistently ranks among the world’s safest countries. 

For instance, it was number 1 in terms of safety in the US News and World Report ranking in 2020,  and ranked among the nations with lowest crime rates in other international studies as well.

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CRIME

OPINION: Switzerland’s rape laws are not fit for purpose and reforms are long overdue

As they stand Switzerland's rape laws are more useful to perpetrators of sex assaults than to the victims, writes Clare O'Dea as she explains why new reforms are long overdue.

OPINION: Switzerland's rape laws are not fit for purpose and reforms are long overdue

It is widely accepted that Switzerland’s current rape law, last revised thirty years ago, is not fit for purpose. Partly in response to international obligations, the Swiss political system is finally addressing the problem and concrete progress is inching closer.

The failings in the current legal model include a too-narrow definition of what sexual act constitutes rape, the exclusion of male victims of rape, the requirement to prove violence or coercion, and the soft sanctions against convicted rapists.

Taken together, these weaknesses make Swiss rape legislation as it now stands a lot more useful to perpetrators of rape than it is to victims.

There were 757 rapes reported in Switzerland last year, and only 77 rapists convicted, some of whom did not receive custodial sentences. The overall number of reported sex offences in 2021 was 6,909. 

But extensive change is coming in all four problem areas, partly thanks to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. A revision of the Swiss law, compliant with the Convention, is working its way through parliament. The Council of States has just supported the reform positions of the Federal Council, and the National Council is expected to go at least as far when it takes up the debate later this year.

The definition of rape is set to be expanded to include any kind of penetration against the will of the person, not just vaginal penetration by a penis. This means more sexual acts can be prosecuted as rape. Combined with the use of the gender-neutral word ‘person’, it also means that males will be recognised as victims of rape for the first time under Swiss law.

The Council of States also voted to introduce a minimum two-year prison sentence for convicted rapists. This is important because sentences under two years are automatically suspended in Switzerland, which has meant some rapists walk away without serving any time behind bars.

It is hard to imagine the anguish of victims seeing their abusers get off so lightly, without any prison time or even being named and shamed in their community. In ordinary circumstances, the names of convicted criminals are not made public in Switzerland.

These changes, if accepted by the larger parliamentary chamber, will represent a major step forward for victim’s rights, and bring Switzerland into line with most other European countries on rape law.

The final unresolved issue is how to proceed when the use of force is no longer part of the legal definition of rape. We know it is possible to do something to someone against their will without using force. There are many reasons victims may not resist, including the phenomenon of freezing in shock.

There is a growing international movement to reconceptualise rape and other sexual offences as violations of the victim’s sexual autonomy. More and more European countries – 13 and counting – are moving away from the violence-based definition of rape to a broader definition of rape being sex without consent.

Right now in Switzerland, the camps are split into those who advocate for the explicit expression of consent – ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ – as the best legal formula to establish rape, and those who say it’s the refusal of consent that must be expressed – ‘No Means No’. The Council of States opted for No Means No.

Unfortunately, all of this may be academic in a court setting where there is no record of such statements on the part of the alleged victim either way.  The use of force, threats or psychological pressure, is already hard to prove. So what’s the point of the change?

What it will hopefully do is reinforce the message that it is imperative to listen to the person you are about to have sex with and that what they want matters. Even if you don’t care what they want at that moment, the law does.

It tells potential victims that their wishes matter, that consent is not something to be brushed aside to satisfy one person’s demands. It is good to have this spelled out in law. Remember that marital rape, for example, only entered the Swiss criminal code in 1991.

When it comes to giving consent, I don’t think it matters which model you use – say yes or say no – putting consent at the top of the agenda between sexual partners will help make a cultural difference. But a lot more needs to happen outside the legal arena to make this a safer country for women and girls in particular.

Sadly, the unreported incidence of sexual assault and rape is high. Amnesty International commissioned a survey of women in Switzerland in 2019 in which 12% of respondents said they had had non-consensual sexual intercourse. More than one in five (22%) had been subject to unwanted sexual acts in their lives. Only 8% of these victims notified the police.

Could we produce a new generation of women who feel secure enough to say ‘I don’t want this’ and a new generation of men who would listen to them and respect their wishes? We are not there yet, especially not with the ubiquity of porn culture that has become markedly more violent towards women.

There are still some hard questions to be asked about why rape happens. Why is it that a subset of men will disregard the dignity, comfort or safety of another person for their own sexual gratification? How are we as a society contributing to this sense of entitlement?

Ultimately, weeding out rape culture will achieve a lot more than the courts can, even with this better law.

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