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CRIME

Swiss police: French family leapt off hotel balcony ‘one by one’

A French family gripped by conspiracy theories jumped one by one from their seventh-floor apartment in the Swiss town of Montreux in a "collective suicide", police investigating the mystery said on Tuesday.

Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP
A file photo of a police sign in front of a hotel in the Swiss town of Montreux. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Only a 15-year-old boy survived the tragedy last Thursday near the casino in the plush town on Lake Geneva.

He is in a coma in a stable condition in hospital.

The Vaud regional police announced Tuesday that their findings “make it possible to rule out the intervention of a third party and suggest that all the victims jumped from the balcony one after the other”.

READ MORE: Family of four die after plunging from Swiss balcony

Police and prosecutors are working on the theory of “collective suicide”.

A man aged 40, his 41-year-old wife, her twin sister, the couple’s eight-year-old daughter and their boy plunged more than 20 metres from the apartment, where they all lived “withdrawn from society”, according to police. 

Timeline of events

Investigators said two officers knocked on the apartment door at 6:15 am, wanting to speak with the father about the home-schooling arrangements for his son.

A voice asked who was at the door, but then said nothing further. Unable to enter, the officers left. Shortly before 7:00 am, all five jumped from the balcony within the space of five minutes.

Police detected no trace of a struggle, seemingly confirming that they jumped of their own accord.

A step-ladder was found on the balcony.

“Before or during the events, no witnesses, including the two police officers present on the spot from 6:15 am and the passers-by at the foot of the building, heard the slightest noise or cry coming from the apartment or the balcony,” police said.

“Technical investigations show no warning signs of such an act,” they added, noting however that “since the start of the pandemic, the family was very interested in conspiracy and survivalist theories”.

The family lived in virtual self-sufficiency having amassed a well-organised stockpile of various food, taking up much of their living space but enabling them to see out a major crisis.

Only the mother’s twin sister worked outside the home, while neither the mother nor the eight-year-old girl, who did not attend school, were registered with the local authorities.

“All these elements suggest… fear of the authorities interfering in their lives,” the police statement said. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

Granddaughters of Algerian writer

France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper said the father, Eric David, grew up in a wealthy part of Marseille and attended the Ecole Polytechnique, one of the most prestigious schools in the country.

The twin sisters, Nasrine and Narjisse Feraoun, grew up in a family of five children who were all educated at the elite Lycee Henri-IV in Paris, the weekly said.

The mother was a dentist and her sister an ophthalmologist.

The newspaper also said the twins were granddaughters of Algerian novelist Mouloud Feraoun.

A close friend of the French philosopher Albert Camus, Feraoun was assassinated in Algiers in 1962 by a far-right French pro-colonial group.

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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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