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U.S. court puts 11-year-old Swiss-American boy on trial on incest charges

A U.S. court has ruled that an 11-year-old boy will be tried on incest charges for allegedly sexually molesting his sister. The case has sparked outrage in Switzerland, where many people doubt the charges and take a critical view of the proceedings.

This content was published on October 20, 1999 - 08:47

A United States court has ruled that an 11-year-old boy will be tried on incest charges for allegedly sexually molesting his five-year-old sister. The case has sparked outrage in Switzerland, where many people doubt the charges and take a very critical view of the legal proceedings.

The boy, who has dual Swiss-American citizenship and is known by his first name, Raoul, was placed in juvenile detention after his August 30 arrest at his family's home in Evergreen in the U.S. state of Colorado.

A neighbour, Laura Mehmert, told social service workers that she saw the boy touch his sister after he pulled her pants down while they were playing outdoors. When Mehmert approached the children, she said, Raoul said he was helping his sister remove something in her pants.

An affidavit filed in court said the complaint was one of several against the boy in recent months. In June, the girl told a caseworker that her brother pulled down her pants and underwear and kissed her vagina, according to the affidavit.

The girl also told caseworkers that the boy had touched her vagina while she was going to the bathroom.

The mother told Swiss medial that the girl had told her the accusations were a lie and her daughter had apologised to her. The mother said the girl apparently wanted to get back at her brother because she was angry at him.

Prosecutors have charged the boy in juvenile court with incest, and a judge ruled Tuesday that the case can proceed, although she released him into foster care.

“I find that probable cause does exist to believe that this boy has committed a crime,” said Jefferson Country Magistrate Marilyn Leonard.

If convicted, Raoul could be forced to spend two years in a juvenile institution or placed under home supervision.

The case has prompted angry headlines in Switzerland, where the mass-circulation newspaper Blick has campaigned for his immediate release and gathered nearly 9,000 petition signatures.

"Ten years ago, a harmless play of `doctor' was considered quite normal. But today, the prosecutors label it a crime of violence," Blick said Monday in an editorial – a view widely shared by many Swiss who have grown up with a different legal system.

During the court hearing, the slight, blond boy sat down beside his attorney, scribbling on a piece of paper. Several reporters from Switzerland were in attendance.

Outside, about a dozen Swiss-Americans gathered to protest.

"In Switzerland, if something like this were to happen, someone would talk to the parents and would say `let's sit down and discuss this,"' Hanspeter Spuhler said. "But to make a federal case out of it, this is just unbelievable."

The boy's great-aunt, Linda Campos, agreed, saying Raoul should be "taken somewhere where he can be loved and taken care of and be with a family member," she said. "What I feel is that he is the victim now."

The boy's mother and stepfather have fled to Switzerland with their three daughters -- aged 12, 5 and 3 -- and have been quoted in Swiss media as saying they will get the boy back there, too, "as quickly as possible" if he is released.

Howard Davidson, the director of the American Bar Association's Centre on Children and the Law, said people in Switzerland "may regret the idea that an 11-year-old can be locked up, and some in the U.S. do, too."

"But courts need to take cases of alleged juvenile sex offenders very seriously, because this is a time when we probably do the most good in terms of treatment intervention," he said.

From staff and wire reports.

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