Social taboo: sister allegedly tortured and raped: why the charge of incest against a 21-year-old is missing

Incest is still a taboo subject in society, but not in court.

Social taboo: sister allegedly tortured and raped: why the charge of incest against a 21-year-old is missing

Incest is still a taboo subject in society, but not in court. Judges deal with cases of sexual abuse and rape, which are repeatedly linked to incest. In Konstanz, a 21-year-old has been in court since Thursday because he is said to have sexually assaulted his sister several times in the past year. At the beginning of the trial he is silent.

According to the indictment, he is said to have tortured his then 18-year-old sister every day for months. He is said to have locked her in his flat share room in Constance. The crimes took place between January and May 2022. He is said to have burned her hand with an iron, hit her with a cable and injured her with a pen. He is said to have poured citric acid on burns on his feet so that the sister felt even more pain. He is said to have raped her on five evenings in May.

He is said to have bandaged her mouth with a cloth so she couldn't scream. According to a police officer, the two roommates had not noticed anything. He had also convinced his parents that his sister was fine with him.

The family fled Syria to Germany in 2021 and found refugee accommodation in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The accused has lived on Lake Constance for more than six years. The Konstanz police came to the accused through a tip from Schwäbisch Gmünd, who was finally arrested on May 13.

"He took all his anger out on me - I was the scapegoat for everything that bothered him," said the now 19-year-old in a court hearing from June 2022, which was played in court. She is now making use of her right to refuse to testify.

Her brother is accused of rape, false imprisonment and dangerous bodily harm. Although incest is forbidden in Germany, he is not one of the charges in this case. The reason: According to the Ministry of Justice, the penalty for so-called cohabitation between relatives is a prison sentence of up to three years, for rape you have to spend much longer in prison. The prohibition of incest is regulated in Section 173 of the Criminal Code. It was confirmed in 2008 by the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. It is nonetheless controversial.

Incest is sexual intercourse between members of the nuclear family. So between parents and children, grandparents and children or between siblings. According to the Federal Constitutional Court, the ban on incest goes back to antiquity. According to supporters, there are two main reasons for the ban: the risk of hereditary damage in children, which can result from incest, and the protection of the family, which would falter without a structure of order.

But there are exceptions: anal or oral sex are not punishable in Germany. This means that such love relationships between close family members are permitted - provided that everyone involved is adult and acts of their own free will.

In 2014, the German Ethics Council advocated legalizing consensual sex between adult siblings. At the time, the council members argued that criminal law was not the appropriate means of "preserving a social taboo" and called for paragraph 173 to be deleted.

According to a spokesman, nothing has changed since then, neither in the legal situation nor in the position of the Ethics Council. But the judiciary continues to debate. There are those who consider sex between close blood relatives undesirable but would not criminalize it.

If the sex is not consensual - as in the Konstanz case - it ends up in court even without an incest report. A look at the police crime statistics shows that the offense is not an isolated case. Since 2018, the State Criminal Police Office has counted twelve female victims of rape by a brother. Nationwide there were 34 cases in 2021 alone.

The Melina association, founded in Stuttgart, has been campaigning for the victims of incest for three decades. "Those affected regularly contact us," says founder Ulrike Dierkes, who was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for her commitment to incest victims. Without paragraph 173, victims would have no legal recourse, says the 65-year-old, who campaigned for its preservation.

In her view, the incestuous aspect of sexual offenses must have an aggravating effect. Especially because the victims often lose the support of their families. "Within the family, there is a completely different dynamic when it comes to such crimes," says the expert. Incest is still very taboo.