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Thursday, October 21, 1999Incest case against 11-year-old 'prudish'
Arrest ignites debate on when child's play becomes sexual abuse
National Post, with files from news services
An 11-year-old boy who was dragged from his bed and put in restraints over sexual allegations involving his five-year-old sister has been released amid a barrage of international criticism.
Andreas and Beverly Wutrich, Raoul's parents, faced the media yesterday in Switzerland.
However, a court in Jefferson County, Colo., ruled that Raoul Wutrich should face trial on charges of aggravated incest. The boy, a Swiss-American whose parents fled to Switzerland after his arrest, is accused of sexually touching and kissing his sister on her genitals.
The case has created a storm in Europe -- but not because of the charges. People in Switzerland are outraged by the way the boy has been treated.
Raoul's grandmother and great-aunt were in court on Tuesday in Golden, Colo., as the slight, blond boy wearing a neat blue and white polo-neck was ordered to be placed in a foster home.
His parents, Beverly and Andreas Wutrich, fearing U.S. authorities would seize their three other children, fled back to Switzerland, taking Tatjana, 12, Sophia, 5, and Sabrina, 3, with them.
Andreas, who is the boy's stepfather, said it was "a crime" that his son would have to stand trial.
"What they have done to him is horrible," he said.
In a letter to Blick, the Swiss-German tabloid that is leading a campaign to bring Raoul home, the boy's U.S.-born mother said, "I pray that this crime against humanity will end one day. I hope ... his wounds will heal."
Public opinion in Switzerland is highly critical of the U.S. authorities, who are seen as prudishly overreacting. The case has become the centre of an international debate on when childish play crosses over into sexual abuse. Some question whether the term "incest"can be applied to what seems like inappropriate touching.
"Ten years ago, a harmless play of 'doctor' was considered quite normal," Blick said in an editorial on Monday.
"But today, the prosecutors label it a crime of violence. Ten- and 11-year-old children are imprisoned because prudish and unrealistic lawyers want it that way."
The newspaper suggested the morals in "conservative Colorado are different ... and nobody is interested in common sense."
Jefferson County prosecutors are noted for taking a tough line on juvenile sex crimes. The county has filed more cases in this area than any other jurisdiction in Colorado.
In addition, the U.S. juvenile system increasingly imprisons young people -- more than 100,000, according to the latest federal figures.
While Swiss authorities are not contesting the grounds of the arrest on Aug. 30, they have expressed concern the U.S. legal system is unreasonably harsh on the boy.
The Foreign Ministry has in particular questioned why police had to take the boy from his parents' house at 10:30 p.m., why he was being held in jail and not in a treatment centre, and why he had to make three court appearances in handcuffs and shackles.
To publicize its actions, the ministry set up a Web site at http://220.127.116.11/site/g/publikationen/RaoulW-trich.html.
Raoul was arrested at the end of August when police burst into the family home in the foothills suburb of Evergreen, Colo., without a warrant. They pulled the boy out of his bed and took him away.
The arrest was a result of a three-month probe, prompted by neighbour Laura Mehmet, who said she saw the boy pull down his sister's pants. She testified that she saw him sexually touching and kissing her with his pants unzipped.
She made an anonymous telephone complaint.
Her descriptions of the boy's action in the family's yard on a May afternoon were largely corroborated by his sister, said Dan Jarboe, a social services counsellor who interviewed the girl.
However, Raoul denied this, telling Thomas Caierno, a Jefferson County sheriff's investigator, he was only trying to help Sophia go to the bathroom.
Mr. Caierno added that the boy had volunteered "his sister hates him and wants him out of the house."
Jefferson County authorities have revealed Raoul was thought to have an attention deficit disorder and has taken the drug Ritalin in the past.
Dr. Eric Hood, a Canadian child psychiatrist, said he thought many Americans would be horrified by the reaction of the Colorado authorities, "but there were pockets of the U.S. where there is such righteous anger toward offenders of certain types that the reactions are pretty extreme."
However, he pointed out that when the record of incarcerating minors was considered, Canada was a far worse offender than the U.S. "In fact we lock them up much more than the Americans do," he said.
Dr. Saul Greenberg, a Toronto paediatrician, described the U.S. authorities as overreacting "in terms of arresting an 11-year-old and putting him in jail. There's no reason to incarcerate a child, he can be kept in the custody of his parents."
Exploring, touching and discovering various parts of the body are quite normal for four- and five-year-olds, he added.
However, Dr. Greenberg conceded such behaviour was more unusual for an 11-year-old.
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