Guest post: Major rape case in Germany

Reader T has generously offered to fill us in on a rape case that has been dominating the news in Germany for some time, but which has been little-reported elsewhere:

I am actually surprised how little you read in the English speaking media about what is considered to be *the* court case of the year in Germany. It’s not only that it’s so spectacular because the secret love life of a celebrity is revealed to the public, but also because it triggers a probably long due debate about gender equality in Germany.

In May of this year (2010) Jörg Kachelmann, a famous TV presenter who is particularly known for his weather forecasts, was arrested and accused of rape in a severe case. His former girlfriend of many years claims that he raped her in her flat while holding a knife to her throat. The lawsuit against Kachelmann started in September with Kachelmann continuously insisting that he didn’t commit any such crime. (For one of the few English-speaking media – finally – commenting on the case see here.)

But one of the most interesting reactions that happened in the first few months didn’t actually come from the accused himself, but from the public. Reading through the comments lefts by readers on the websites of all big newspapers, I was simply shocked. It felt as though nearly 95% of people were certain that the ex-girlfriend falsely accused him to get revenge, probably because he wanted to leave her. But that’s not all. Comments ranged from “This is just how women are, they’d do anything to get back at a man” (garnished with the occasional “and I’m saying this as a woman” — as if women can’t be sexist) to “They were in a relationship, you can’t rape someone who you’re in a relationship with” or alternatively “He doesn’t need to rape a woman, he can have any woman he likes, it’s just implausible” and further “Laws against rape in a relationship should be abolished, it’s made too easy for a woman to destroy a man”. And I’m not only talking about the tabloid-like attention-grabbing “Bild-Zeitung”, you’ll find comments like these in the “Zeit”, a newspaper aimed mainly at well-educated people. (BILD now hides the comments, but you can still read such things on ZEIT, here (in German) or here. )

A member of my close famility insisted that the woman must have lied, since a fifty year old man would never be in the mood for sex after a fight with his partner (they did have a fight about him cheating). It made me wonder whether he’d insist on his theory even if a similar thing had happened to someone of his family. Maybe he would go with his dangerous reasoning and have serious doubts about this person telling the truth – worrisome.

After some time it became public that Kachelmann didn’t only have this one girlfriend – no, he had at least four and none of them knew about the others. It also leaked out that he was very dominant in his relationships with sadistic tendencies in his sexlife. Maybe it was when these pieces of information were revealed that things got more diffcult for Kachelmann. The public, formerly convinced that he was just the good guy from next door, now kept rather quiet.

The German media, of course, is informing us about even the smallest movement in the case, without really caring who they are throwing mud at as long there is mud to be thrown, while the many lawyers of the accused continue to defame the alleged victim, the state attorny, the experts or whoever they believe to stand between their boss and his freedom. According to an expert who spoke to the alleged victim, her description of the alleged act was very vague and insufficient in details, and some of the actions she described could not have happened like this. The media and the public concluded from this that the woman had lied about the rape. However, the expert later insisted that this piece of information was taken out of the context and that she also found many signs that pointed towards the truth of what the alleged victim said. The newest development here is that Kachelmann’s lawyer asked for her to be removed from the case, amongst other things he accuses the expert of uncritically defending claims of radical feminists.

The media also jumped on the fact that the former girlfriend lied to the police about things that have happened prior to the rape. According to her she found a letter in her mailbox informing her that Kachelmann had other girlfriends, while in fact she had sent the letter to herself to confront her then-boyfriend with it. Another expert, ordered by the defence, speculated that the alleged victim might have inflicted the visual signs resulting from the alleged rape herself.

The latest development is that Kachelmann hired a new lawyer, and frankly, this man reminds me of a rabid dog. There is no member of the court he hasn’t attacked so far, it seems. His main line appears to be to accuse everyone he doesn’t like of incompetence; including the trauma therapist of the alleged victim, a professor from the university of Heidelberg, and demanded of him — in the courtroom — to render all his notes he took on the woman during their session immediately. Apparently the expert was too surprised to refuse and God knows why the judges didn’t stop the lawyer. Imagine how the alleged victim must feel now: Kachelmann and his lawyers now know her deepest feelings and secrets, many of them probably not even directly about Kachelmann. If she was telling the truth about being raped by her former boyfriend, she must feel raped now one more time.

It’s not too difficult to imagine that women and men around the country start thinking to themselves that it’s better not to report being raped — given the ordeal a victim has to go through. And maybe that’s the crucial issue — independent of whether Kachelmann’s former partner was raped by him or not. The message it sends out to rape victims is that no one will believe you, people will accuse you of just trying to ruin the man’s life, and you will be striped naked physically and psychologically. And so, though still shocking, it might be a plausible

consequence of the case that a German state attorny claimed in a famous German politics TV magazine (“Anne Will” in August) that if it was his daughter that was raped he might well advice her not to go to the police. And further, that his experience as a attorny tought him that in the end it’s always the rape victims who pay the price.

Luckily for all actual and potential rape victims Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s number one feminist, has been observing and writing about the case since the very beginning and will certainly continue to do so. And thanks to the “Bild Zeitung” who made her one of their reporters on the case, she can now reach a wider audience.

Since it seems more or less a taboo in Germany to publicly reveal that you admire Schwarzer or at least that there is a point in her criticism of gender inequality, the comments on her writings are generally negative (though the magazine now doesn’t allow comments on the case anymore at all). But I hope that at least secretly readers think about what she has to say and even agree with her.(If you speak German, you might also be interested in her blog entry.)

The courtcase will probably continue until march 2011.

7 thoughts on “Guest post: Major rape case in Germany

  1. I’m not sure if ‘lucky’ is the right word in regard to Alice Schwarzer. She falls squarely into the camp of feminism that comes up with remarks equating consensual BDSM desires coming from childhood abuse, along with “Weiblicher Masochismus ist Kollaboration!” and has some unsavory and morally conservative attitudes towards sex in general.

    She supports the ban on Muslims wearing headscarves, even for students in schools and her attitudes in general are very much of the same kind as second wave feminists like Dworkin, Greer and so on.

    While she might be one of the loudest voices in German feminism, she certainly isn’t one who’s held in high regard amongst much of the current feminist/queer/gender/trans theorists and communities, particularly in Berlin.

    I doubt based on her prior writings, her coverage of this case would be anything other than the strident opposite to the rubbish of Bild, a bit like when the Guardian rolls out Bindel to fill the op-ed pages.

  2. @frances:

    But that’s not the point here, is it? Rather, it’s a good thing that the case is being covered from a feminist point of view in the most widely read newspaper in Germany. (I also don’t think that the Bild is the equivalent of the Guardian, it’s rather the Sun).

    By the way, so far Schwarzer’s coverage of the case in BILD is free of any extreme claims, it’s actually really good. Maybe you should have a look at it.

  3. TA is surely right — whatever you think about her views, surely it’s better to have someone representing a broadly feminist angle in what appears to be an otherwise pretty terrible bit of mainstream media reporting. And whether or not Schwarzer is held in high regard by various people, and whether or not she holds some views that aren’t particularly helpful or plausible, in trying to hold the line in a mass media context, she’s doing something very difficult. And to the extent that it’s a good thing that someone is trying to do that, we’re lucky. I’m pretty sure that was all the original post was getting at, and it’s a point that stands whether or not you’d prefer it if someone else got the opportunity instead of Schwarzer.

  4. An equally depressing case is happening here in Maryland. A young woman from the Baltimore area, Yeardley Love, was beaten to death by her boyfriend. Evidence of the boyfriend’s guilt is undenaible: past abuse, multiple death threats, her blood on his clothes, AND a confession. Nevertheless, she is now being blamed for her own death because she was drunk that night and took medication for ADHD. The claim is that his repeated banging of her head against the wall, his cracking open her skull and leaving her face down in a pool of her own blood, didn’t kill her — her drug “abuse” did.

  5. @TA No, that is the point. I don’t think there should be an attitude where we should be grateful for any feminist representation we can get, irrespective of the basis of that feminism.

    This is exactly the same with Bindel or Greer at the Guardian who have prejudices which colour their presentation of an issue. It’s an issue of credibility, and when there is someone who is seen to be representing feminism yet within that representation holds these biases, it’s not acceptable to just pass it off with, ‘oh, any feminist is better than none’.

    In regard to this case, I think Schwarzer’s very publicly anti-BDSM stance, along with the implied SM aspects of Kachelmann’s relationships is for me very problematic.

    Personally I think taz do an ok job of covering this case, though I’m not following it.

  6. I appreciate you being the only English speaking site to clearly report about this case. I quoted you in my recent post.

    You report facts very nicely. But our conclusions are the opposite. A lot of my posts are about how men can be jailed upon simple unproven allegations by women. How sacred constitutional rights like due process and presumption of innocence have been anulled in rape and child abuse accusations.

    Nobody ever would get jailed for months if accused of murder, robbery, deadly arson with not the slightest corroborating evidence except one person’s accusation. And that one person has an axe to grind and reasons to make false accusations.

    Real rapists should be punished. Just as real arsonists, real murderers. But since the Magna Carta we protect innocent people from unproven accusations. Even at the price of mafia bosses escaping justice. In our society, people are protected from groundless legal persecution. Except in rape and domestic violence cases.

    I recommend you read for more about false rape accusations.

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