In Boulder, Colorado, it's fairly easy to rape and kill your 6-year-old beauty queen daughter without much hassle from the law, but down the road in Jefferson County -- home of Adolph Coors, the horrible Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site, and bland Littleton-esque suburbs for Denver commuters -- the cops deal swiftly with crime against kiddies.
Especially if the alleged criminal is an 11-year-old boy who maybe played doctor with his sister, like every other kid on Earth. Back in June, blond moppet Raoul WŁthrich was accused by a meddling neighbor of inappropriately touching his 5-year-old sister -- and after his late-night arrest two months later, spent nearly eight weeks locked up like a murderer. He was forced to appear in court wearing leg irons and, due to his dual U.S.-Swiss nationality, his treatment inspired international outrage.
Once again, the civilized world looks to America and says, "You people are all fucking insane."
In the days before everything became a sex crime, the nosy neighbor would tell the kids' parents, and the parents would say to the children, "Stop doing that," and the kids would stop doing it whenever parents and neighbors were around. This is a time-honored system, with few variations. (In the hippie-parent version, the kids would get a long, groovy lecture on how precious and beautiful sex can be, but not until you're much older, and it's just a beautiful thing that happens between two people who are like, so in love with each other... The kids immediately lose all curiosity about sex and turn their attention to guns.)
But at 10:30 on the night of August 30, Jefferson County sheriff's deputies arrived at the WŁthrich home in suburban Evergreen. They seized Raoul and arrested him without a warrant. The 4-foot-tall boy felt the handcuffs clamp onto his dangerous tiny wrists and was stuffed inside a police car and taken to the county's juvenile jail, where he was kept for seven weeks, through two preliminary hearings, and eventually dumped into foster care where he stayed until his formal day in court last week. If that wasn't torture enough, Raoul knew that if found guilty, he would be imprisoned for two years, during which time he would likely learn the true meaning of "sexual assault."
On September 8, the boy was denied bail because the prosecutors feared his family would take the only rational action and get on the very next plane to Switzerland. Indeed, the family did flee to Switzerland, because the cops started dropping hints -- as they always do in these situations -- that all sorts of dirty stuff was happening in the WŁthrich home. Fearing the cops would arrest them or take their three other children, the WŁthrich lawyers advised the family to get the hell out of Colorado.
The local press drooled over the fact that Raoul's parents, Beverly and Andreas WŁthrich, are first cousins. While this may be bad for the gene pool, it's not illegal in Colorado and many other states; nor is it a crime in Switzerland. But the real proof that these weird Europeans were all sex criminals came when The Denver Post reported that the parents had registered a company that would sell perfectly legal adult videos and -- the smoking gun -- they would maybe even start a Web site called Ultimate Fantasies in an attempt to make a little money off the huge Internet pornography market.
(Ultimate Fantasies is one of the most generic porn phrases on the Web, but interestingly enough, it wasn't registered as a domain until October 23 -- after the Denver newspapers reported Beverly and Andreas WŁthrich had started a company by that name. Cybersquatters strike again! Neither WŁthrich has any sites registered with Network Solutions, although 21 other WŁthrich's have domains registered, none in the Denver region's 303 area code.)
As thousands of Swiss sent contributions for his legal defense, the WŁthrich family maneuvered to free their son. Meanwhile, Raoul sat in his cell, accused of incest and sexual assault, even denied the counseling Jefferson County's prosecutors insisted he needed.
This case alone has proven every European assumption about the United States: We are savage hypocrites, scared to death of sex, disgusted by nature, unable to fathom the sexual curiosity all primates are born with, delighted to put everybody in jail forever, and in love with cops bursting into homes with guns and handcuffs. We are addicted to Web porn and pay-per-view skin flicks, but will rally to destroy the family of anyone even considering actually working in the porn industry, like the mob of idiot villagers chasing Frankenstein's monster.
"Switzerland is Scandalized," screamed a headline in the Swiss newspaper Blick on October 21. A man-in-the-street poll by the paper got responses such as "It's brutal to keep an 11-year-old in jail," and, "Americans are prudes."
The outrage in Switzerland was so intense that its Federal Department of Justice and Police threatened to "intervene" with Colorado authorities if that's what it would take to get Raoul back to his family. The news was particularly shocking to the Swiss because there, kids under 14 cannot be prosecuted, period.
"Americans would like to teach the world moral values, but look what kind of 'moral' president they have," the Swiss newspaper Le Matin said in an editorial on the case last week. Touchť.
And as trade ministers from around the globe met in Geneva last week to prepare for Seattle's World Trade Organization summit, the talk was of the United States' pathetic record of destroying kids by tossing them into prisons. The shameful treatment of Raoul also provoked a new European frenzy over U.S. refusal to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a United Nations pact adopted a decade ago that's been ratified by 191 countries.
But in America, where more than 100,000 children are behind bars, kids are more likely to hear their Miranda rights.
The kid's nightmare finally ended on Wednesday, when Jefferson County District Judge James Zimmerman threw out the case because Raoul was denied a speedy trial. A Swiss diplomat has taken the boy home, which is now Switzerland only.
"[T]he world has witnessed how the United States violated a child's human rights," Amnesty International said in a damning statement Wednesday.
The WŁthrich family will, of course, sue the cops and the prosecutors and the county, and if there's any justice they will win $100 million. Unfortunately, true justice -- having the children of these rabid cops and lawyers locked up for months and scarred for life -- isn't an accepted legal remedy.
Ken Layne still likes to play doctor. He recently retired from United Press International in Washington and can be found in the pages of Tabloid.net, the Online Journalism Review, the Daily Telegraph, the Los Angeles Daily News, Mother Jones, and other fine publications.