Guess Who Won’t Be Giving Me The Weather Forecast.

31 May

So, Jörg Kachelmann actually got acquitted.

I reckon only people living in germany have been bothered by him know who he is, so to give you a brief summary: Kachelmann is possibly the most famous “weather man” on german TV. Yeah, that’s about it. He hasn’t got much else going for him, I suppose.

Last year, Kachelmann has been accused of raping one of his (allegedly 14) (ex-)girlfriends at knife point, allegedly threatening to kill her. He was charged with rape and assault, taken into custody at an airport before leaving the country for a broadcasting job, and has spent about 4 months in prison last year until he was released on bail.

Kachelmann’s case received lots of media attention, including a column from germany’s self-proclaimed leading feminist, Alice Schwarzer, for the country’s top tabloid (“BILD”), in which she commented on the trial (which deserves a whole blog post just on its own…).

It was a trial based on circumstantial evidence (“Indizienprozess”): there were only minor traces of Kachelmann’s and his ex-girlfriend’s DNA on the knife he allegedly put to her throat; he alleged that they had consensual sex; the bruises she had on her body were said to could have been self-inflicted, and her report of the rape was alleged to have gaps and ambivalences in it, which one expert witness attributed to her trauma, another one to potential lies. Whereas Kachelmann’s ex-girlfriend claimed that he raped and assaulted her after she confronted him about his other girlfriends and had broken up with him, he claimed that they had consensual sex before the breakup happened.

The judges ruled “in dubio pro reo.” Since there was reasonable doubt to Kachelmann’s guiltiness, he was acquitted. The grounds for this judgement are actually quite nuanced and reasoned: It is stressed that the judges still do not believe his side of the story and do not wish to convey that the woman was lying, but, in face of a lack of evidence, had to rule in his favour. Kachelmann’s defence counsel has called this a “third class acquittal.” The prosecution has announced that they’d be considering an appeal.

I think that “in dubio pro reo” is one of the most important principles of the judicial system. The only problem is, that it seems to be employed in very different ways for different crimes. Rape seems to be a crime where “in dubio pro reo” is sort of the default reponse: of 8118 rape charges that have been filed in germany in 2006 (and only a small percentage of rape cases actually get reported and then make it to trial), only 13 per cent ended in a conviction. That’s right: Out of 8118 potential rapists, 7063 did not face any legal consequences. And it gets worse: Even though the number of rape charges has risen since 1985, the conviction rate has fallen.

[By the way: Monika Frommel, the law professor in the linked article who calls this development “unsurprising,” since it had gotten harder to really identify rape due to the “subtlety” of the elements of an offence these days (!), is the same Monika Frommel who has been an avid advocate of Kachelmann from day one, who was quite happy to call the potential victim a liar, and who – hooray! – names “feminist criminology” as her main field of interest.]

Kachelmann’s main defence counsel Johann Schwenn, however, seems quite happy to ignore these facts. Deeply steeped in rape culture, Schwenn is known to be a lawyer who is happy to take over either high-profile cases and/or those of sexual assault charges. Schwenn has even published an article in a german legal journal (“Straftverteidiger”) last year, titled “Wrongful Convictions and Their Causes,” in which he philosophises about “sex offenses.” He concludes that no other statutory offense was so heavily associated with negative prejudgments and that presumed innocence was very “unpopular” when it came to “sex offenses.” Already the arrest of an accused terminated hir social life.

I repeat that only 13 per cent of trials concerning rape end in convictions. Moreover, the “prejudgment” argument would most certainly be better fitted regarding the potential victims. The idea of “honeytrapping,” questions aimed at tarnishing the potential victim’s credibility and “reputation” through examining hir sexual history/clothing style/behaviour, “expert witnesses” who ponder the idea whether potential victims might have done physical harm to themselves to frame the accused; the various and well known mechanisms for victim blaming and humiliation are rampant when it comes to rape charges – so rampant that Berlin’s former Attorney General publicly admitted (on TV) that he would advise his own daughter to not press charges if she were raped, to save her from additional traumatic experiences.

The rape trials in germany that do end in conviction are overwhelmingly those where the victim has suffered severe injuries or the defendant was previously convicted or intoxicated – if the victim was drunk, however, it does not count (cf. third link). Lovely, isn’t it? Extreme violence seems to be the only indicator of guilt in rape trials for most judges, thus conveying the rape culture ideology that “forcible rape” (whatever that is supposed to mean and whereever one is drawing the line here – hint: it’s bullshit) is the only “valid” form of rape that deserves to be punished. Not only is this ignoring the multitude of situations that result in rape and the multitude of possible coercion, it also ignores the fundamental right to complete bodily integrity, to actual female personhood, and it is latently racist, implying that rape is something a (more often than not: “brown”) stranger is violently forcing on (more often than not: “white”) women, rather than a crime that happens in people’s own homes. Actually, more than 70 per cent of rape victims have been previously acquainted with the perpetrator.

Moreover, this kind of thinking presumes that there are grey areas between rape and sex.

Actually: there aren’t.

Only recently, six men who had repeatedly raped a 17 year old woman in Bremen (germany) were acquitted on the count of the victim’s physical and psychological breakdown. They raped her vaginally and anally, several men at a time, and put objects into her vagina. Since she was traumatised and thus could not give a complete account of what had happened that night when she reported the crime, suffered re-traumatisation during the trial (which resulted in her being declared unfit to stand trial), and the six men stayed mute, the judge, even though convinced they were guilty, acquitted them of all charges. If that was not enough ugliness, the defendants’ lawyers concluded that this “incident” could not have been called “rape” and that some women were simply “sex-hungry.”

Are those the grey areas people have in mind?

Indeed, being so concerned for the social well-being of his client, Kachelmann’s lawyers’ closing argument boiled down to accusing the potential victim of having fabricated the charges, of having remarkable “theatrical abilities,” of being a “vindictive” woman “full of hatred” and “criminal energy.” Kachelmann was acquitted of all charges. He will be compensated for his time in prison and the public will assume the court fees. Whilst his potential victim broke into tears, the court room broke into applause.

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