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December 14, 2010

Switzerland considers joining 8 other countries in de-criminalizing incest between adults

The Swiss Justice Department has announced a proposed reform of the Swiss criminal code, including repeal of Article 271, the provision that criminalizes sexual relations between parent and child or between siblings. The Department is scheduled to issue a report making the argument for the proposal this spring, but in the meantime, this one item has set off a huge controversy.

From Salon:

... A Justice Department spokesperson explains, "Incest continues to be a taboo in our society, but it's not up to criminal law to stop every morally reprehensible aspect of behavior. Rather, the law should be for punishing behavior that's particularly socially damaging."

Marriage between second-degree relatives (aunt/uncle, niece/nephew) is already legal in Switzerland, but the new measure would overturn the ban on consensual sexual relationships between siblings, and between parents and their adult children. (Sexual relationships with underage children would, of course, remain illegal.) The text of the bill has yet to be released, but skeeved-out opponents have heard more than enough. Barbara Schmid Federer, a member of The Christian People's Party of Switzerland, told the Telegraph that the proposal was "completely repugnant" and that she "could not countenance painting out such a law from the statute books."

... [S]ome U.S. courts prosecute incestuous adult relationships on the grounds that the government has a legitimate interest in preventing inbreeding. Other courts view children as forever-and-always minors when it comes to sexual relationships with their parents...

The Switzerland measure rejects that thinking and allows for the possibility that an adult can meaningfully consent to sex with their parent or sibling. The Swiss would hardly be the first to allow for this: According to a 2007 report by the Max Planck Institute (via World Radio Switzerland), China, France, Israel, the Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Turkey do not have any prohibitions on consensual incest between adults. 

Meanwhile, a Columbia University Professor recently charged with third-degree incest under New York law awaits further legal proceedings. Political science Professor David Epstein, 46, was arrested for allegedly having an apparently consensual sexual relationship with his 24-year-old daughter. Professor Epstein was placed on administrative leave after the arrest; a trial date has not been set.

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