Swiss incensed over detention of boy accused of incest
October 21, 1999
(CNN) -- The case of an 11-year-old Swiss-American boy charged with incest in Colorado has caused a public outcry in Switzerland.
The alleged act of incest occurred when the boy was ten. A neighbor observed the boy with this sister and reported it to authorities.
The boy, who said he was trying to help his younger sister go to the bathroom, has been released from a juvenile detention center into foster care. He faces a trial and up to two years in the juvenile justice system.
"There were people calling the station and they were crying on the phone and they were really angry. How could this happen in a country like America?" Christoph Nufer of Swiss television said Wednesday.
"A thing like this would never happen in Switzerland. We would never put a 10 year-old-boy in prison," said another Swiss broadcaster, Muriel Spitzer.
Angry headlines are appearing in Switzerland and the mass circulation Swiss daily "Blick" is calling for the boy's immediate release.
"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. "Ten- and 11-year-old children are imprisoned because prudish and unrealistic lawyers want it that way."
"It's just a kid and he has to find his limitations and all that," insisted Nufer.
Protect now, ask questions later
The young boy appeared this week in a Golden, Colorado, juvenile court accused of having sexual contact with his sister. Though he did not speak at Tuesday's hearing, the boy raised his hand as he was led out of the courtroom.
"I don't really believe my client understood the charges and I don't believe my client really understands what's going on around him," said defense attorney Arnold Wegher.
But U.S. experts in the field of child psychology say the bottom line is that authorities have to protect children now and ask questions later.
"There's a point where we need to err on the side of protecting children because, often times, terrible things do happen to children and we don't know about it," said developmental psychologist JoAnn Farver.
Daniel Jarboe, an incest expert with an independent group that interviews alleged child victims for the state Human Services Department, testified that the girl said her brother touched and kissed her genitals.
Thomas J. Acierno, a Jefferson County sheriff's investigator who interviewed the boy, testified that the boy told him he was only trying to help his sister go to the bathroom and he did not kiss her genitals.
Child to be arraigned
"I feel this was totally blown out of proportion," said Hanspeter Spuhler, president of the Denver-area Swiss-American Friendship Society.
He was among a dozen Swiss-Americans who protested outside the courthouse and then attended Tuesday's hearing.
"In Switzerland if something like this were to happen, someone would talk to the parents and say 'Let's sit down and discuss this,' " Spuhler said. "But to make a federal case out of it, this is just unbelievable."
Manuel Sager, a Swiss Embassy spokesman in Colorado, said the boy was treated harshly by authorities. He was arrested late one night and kept in handcuffs and shackles for at least three court appearances, Sager said.
"We can only be happy that, as of today, the child is not in the juvenile detention center," he said.
The boy's parents fled to their native Switzerland fearing their three other children, including the 5-year-old girl and two other daughters ages 12 and 3, might also be taken from them.
From Switzerland, the parents say they are doing everything they can to get their son out of this situation.
Wegher said the boy will plead innocent at his arraignment scheduled for November 8.
Correspondent Greg LaMotte and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Colorado Department of Human Services
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