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victim for “the signals she sent out to the men”, referencing behaviour in the club where they met where the woman had withdrawn to a toilet with another man.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

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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