Minors commit a growing share of sexual offences

In Switzerland, anyone keeping or sharing pornographic material is punishable if persons under 16 years have access to it. Keystone

Children were responsible for one in four sexual offences in 2019, according to federal crime statistics cited by the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Sunday. Ten years earlier, the proportion was only an eighth. The spike in minor offenders is evident in the 10-14 age group which was responsible for 660 sexual offences in the latest tally.

This content was published on April 12, 2020 - 13:07
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Most cases involve illegal pornography. For example, a 12-year-old boy sent to his girlfriend of the same age a sex video with scenes of violence and humiliation. The therapist overseeing the case says the boy found such footage "cool" whereas his girlfriend found the whole experience deeply traumatising. It took weeks for her parents to discover the footage on her phone.

"He put pressure on her to watch the scenes – it was a preparation for when they will sleep together themselves," says Sefika Garibovic, an expert in the re-education of difficult adolescents, who is conducting their therapy. "He is still not particularly ashamed, but finds these films cool," says the sex therapist.

Easily accessible porn

Two years ago, there were 199 pornography charges against children under the age of 15. Now there are 497. "Young people have their own smartphones and access to the Internet at an ever earlier age, where they can easily access such content," says Hans Melliger, head of the Aargau Youth Prosecutor's Office, adding few are aware of what crosses the line into criminal conduct.

The penal code prohibits "hard" porn – content depicting sex with children or animals – for adults, notes the newspaper. A provision makes it illegal to send "soft" porn to adolescents under the age of 16. "This regulation is intended to provide special protection for children," says Patrik Killer, a leading youth attorney in Zurich. "But it also leads to all younger teenagers being punishable if they share simple sex films or pictures among themselves."

Homemade porn

The problem extends beyond commercial pornography. In a third of cases, the pornographic material is self-made, according to an assessment conducted by the juvenile justice system in Yurich. According to Killer, this is due in part to "a constant desire for self-expression" but teenagers often overlook the consequences. "Once a revealing picture is sent, it's always possible that someone will forward it, and the file will soon be circulated throughout the class," he notes.

The age of the offenders influences how they are punished. Deprivation of liberty or fines are not possible for those under the age of 15. "Juvenile criminal law focuses on education, not exclusively on sanctions," says Killer. Young offenders are often sent to a special course so they are sensitised to dealing with pornography.

Uptick of rape cases

Children are also involved in serious sex offences. The latest figures show that 56 complains for rape were filed against minors in 2019, more than ever before. In addition, 96 cases of sexual  assault. Whether the consumption of hard pornography at a young age increases the chances of such offences is a matter of debate among experts.

This is extremely controversial," says Dirk Baier, head of the Institute for Delinquency and Crime Prevention at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). "Some studies have found a strong correlation, others none at all." 

According to Baier, it is scientifically proven that pornographic videos and images can lower the inhibition threshold for people who are generally prone to violence."For them, this content can be a trigger to actually act out their urges," he says.

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