Zurich police have created a task force to deal with youth rape cases after revelations that a 13-year-old girl was reportedly raped by a group of youths.
Police fear that the case is not an isolated one in Zurich. Allegations of incidents involving minors in other towns and cities have also come to light.
Last week it was revealed that around a dozen youths aged between 15 and 18 years old had been accused of raping the girl in Zurich’s Seebach area.
Four of the suspects and the girl go to the same school. All of the youths are either of foreign origin or naturalised Swiss.
Nine minors and an adult are still in custody but two other suspects have been released. Specialists are currently caring for the victim.
Police officials said on Monday they had set up a special task force to work on this and other possible cases. Two teams from the violence prevention unit have been sent to the school involved to work with pupils.
Zurich councillor Gerold Lauber, who is responsible for the city’s schools, confirmed that three alleged cases of abuse over the past year involving the same group of youths had also come to light.
Lauber stressed that the city’s early warning system for preventing violence in schools would now be overhauled to allow for earlier intervention in such cases.
It was also announced on Monday that several primary schoolchildren in the northeastern canton of St Gallen had been abused by an older pupil.
A similar case was reported in Steffisburg in the canton of Bern earlier this year, as was the alleged rape of a small girl in Rhäzüns in the eastern canton of Graubünden by an 11 and a 12 year old.
The news has shocked Switzerland, with some observers pointing to a worrying rise in sexual violence against children.
But according to child and youth psychologist Allan Guggenbühl rape cases among children are not a new phenomenon.
The Seebach youths were all biologically speaking mature and were in a perverse way testing their puberty, he said. In some circles, gang rape is a kind of initiation rite into the group.
“Such rites could come back into fashion,” warned Guggenbühl.
Concerns have also been raised that children have too easy access to pornography via the internet and mobile phones. The Seebach boys are said to have filmed their acts on their mobile phones.
Others have focused on the foreign background of the youths involved in the cases. In Seebach six were naturalised Swiss and the others foreigners, coming from Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro and the Dominican Republic.
Integration expert Thomas Kessler told the Bern-based Bund newspaper there was a problem with young men whose parents came to Switzerland from the Balkans, Turkey or Portugal in the 1980s and 1990s. They were more likely to have problems at school, be unemployed or be involved in crime.
But he said that only a small percentage of young people growing up in such circumstances committed such grave crimes.
He called for earlier prevention work to be done with youths who started out with petty crime—the Seebach boys were all known to the police—and for an improved integration policy involving give and take on both sides.
Other experts have pointed to the erosion of respect between young foreigners and their parents.
The Zurich branch of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party has, however, been quick to blame the situation on the left’s vision of a multicultural society.
It has called for young foreigners—and their families—to be deported or for Swiss nationality to be removed from naturalised Swiss if they are found to be involved in crime.
Other political parties have condemned this attitude, with the centre-left Social Democrats accusing the People’s Party of trying to make political capital out of the situation.