F. A. Wehner, Judge at the tribunal of Copenhagen
"The emotions involved should be kept at a level suitable to the child."
Where do you set the limits? Could it ever be illegal to kiss a child on the cheek?
No. In itself that would not be punishable. But one should understand that there can be sexual motives hidden in many things that people do. In the cases that come to trial there will always be a long string of acts with a clear sexual component in them - touching certain areas of the body and such - and then suddenly there comes something more than an innocent hug. If this develops to "pawing", as it is so nicely called, then it offends decency. People's feeling of decency can also be offended by obscene language - of course, I don't propose to give you any examples; many of the nastiest flowers of speech are offensive to decency.
Will it be taken into consideration whether the child itself feels that the relations were offensive?
No. In this area we apply the same principles as in the area of insult. Thistle and mimosa are identical under the law. Whether or not the child, feels abused is not relevant in establishing guilt, but it may be very important in determining the severity of the punishment.
What is of importance for determining the punishment?
We take the actual circumstances into consideration. A rather senile pensioner who touches a few little boys without hurting them in any way will get a sentence under probation. A 25-year-old who molests and solicits little girls in the streets will receive unconditional detention. Quite a number of cases have come to trial involving the exploitation of children of a married couple or of a partner one is living with. In 1984 there was an affair in which the culprit was sentenced to one year in prison. He had intercourse with a girl for several years, and it was determined that he had used force.
But she was his stepdaughter?
She was his stepdaughter. The stepdaughter was put in a very miserable position. If she went to her mother, the relationship between her stepfather and her mother might be disrupted. The case came to trial because the social authorities became interested in what was happening in the home. I should point out that the girl was awarded 25,000 Danish crowns in damages. In Denmark today a prison sentence of one year is seen as very harsh, and it shows that in a case where a child is severely oppressed and the adult abuses the child's dependence, the perpetrator is not treated with velvet gloves.
And if, for example, a man meets a 13-year-old boy in the street and invites the boy to come with him.
This will most likely result in a sentence under probation. I remember a typical example - a man of 46 who, after paying 50 crowns, took a 12-year-old boy to his home, caressed the boy's body and had anal intercourse with him. He was sentenced to 4 months probation.
And if there had been no payment?
The payment is of secondary importance. The outcome would have been the same.
A man comes to know a boy of 12. They become close friends and meet regularly over the next three years and have regular sexual contact.
I think this will result in very severe punishment, unconditional imprisonment. You can never deny that such an affair involves seduction. If there are relationships with children that develop emotional overtones, the emotions involved should be kept at a level suitable to the child, and children are not meant to have sexual contacts with adults. I have known cases where you could see from the statements made that the motive was not love for the child; the motivating forces were the man's complexes and sexual problems. The man couldn't establish contacts with people of his own age and therefore his urges had sought a demented outlet. Some of these affairs end, as we know, tragically. We have cases of homicide which began with a man assaulting a child. The child starts to scream - it is typically girls who are raped - and the man panics. The result is a sexual killing.
I was present at a trial of a man who had previously been sentenced for sexual relations with an 11-year-old. Two years later they accidentally met again. The boy started coming to the man's home. The man refused at first to let him in, but finally the man allowed the boy to persuade him to have sex together.
I can only say that he should have said no to the boy. The adult is supposed to possess normal judgment - something the child obviously does not yet have. Children are, and should be, permitted to be unreasonable, but adults should be capable of using the reason which the child lacks. This sort of relationship is also rather dangerous. We know what happens with boys hustling on Rådhuspladsen: if they cannot hustle any more, they find refuge in various kinds of criminality. This results in their social ruin. They become lost human beings.
What importance would be given to the fact that the boy took the initiative when that was the case?
If it is very definitely proven that a great deal of pressure was exercised by the boy - a boy of 13 is supposed to have some concepts of what you may and may not do - this will certainly result in the punishment, which normally would be about six to eight months, being reduced. If the accused is a first-time offender he will certainly be put on probation.
Couldn't it be said that the child knows quite well what he is doing if he had previously been involved in similar relations with other adults?
Yes. But according to the law he is still entitled to legal protection. Whether it is a girl of 14 with experience, or a girl who is still a virgin is not very important.
When is a probationary sentence given?
The fundamental idea behind giving a sentence on probation is that the convicted man not commit another offence. If there is a reason to suppose that he will, the justification for imposing a sentence on probation disappears.
How do you determine this?
If he has no previous convictions we hope that he will not do it again. I am now referring to normally constituted people. But some of those who are prosecuted are obviously deficient in some way; they have one morbid defect or another in their sexual constitution. A forensic psychiatrist is often consulted to help the judge decide whether a sentence could be imposed on probation, or whether special measures must be taken.
Treatment or admission to a psychiatric hospital. We may also make such treatment a condition for experimental probation.
How frequently are these kinds of decisions made?
They are relatively rare.
A child claims that something unlawful has taken place. The accused denies it. What must be in the child's statement to enable you to rely upon it under such circumstances?
It should be completely trustworthy. Consistent, reasonable, logical. It is often corroborated by concrete independent circumstances. Somebody observes, for instance, that little Karen snuggles up to people. She behaves strangely; it is difficult to establish contact with her. I remember an affair I had to deal with. A girl who had been functioning apparently normally was falling more and more behind in her studies at school. It was discovered that somebody on the same floor as her home was molesting her. There was no doubt about the truth of the girl's statement. Every time she was questioned about what exactly had happened she told basically the same story.
How do the police examine the accused?
As you can understand, I am never present at the police examination. But one of the rules is that the accused is under no obligation to make a statement to the police.
How often does the accused refuse?
Not very often, because it just drags out the affair. And there is the risk of preventive detention.
Do you believe the police use special means to make people talk?
No. And I do not think it is improper if they tell a suspect who refuses to make a statement that the case may very well take longer because of his refusal. But the police, obviously, are not allowed to threaten, mislead or constrain people. This is affirmed in the code of criminal procedure.
How is this interpreted?
For example, it is not permitted to say to the suspect during questioning by the police, "If you confess, you'll get off with six months, otherwise you'll get two years." But when the police officer draws the suspect's attention to the fact that the sentence may be lower when offenders turn themselves in and confess of their own free will, this is often misinterpreted. Afterwards, during the trial, the accused might say, "The detective read a section of the law to me, and so I thought I would get a reduced sentence if I confessed."
Does the court ever give a reduced sentence in such cases?
I have never seen it happen. It is very rare that someone turns himself in.
A man has had a sexual relation with an under-aged hustler. The boy's father threatens to turn him in to the police unless he pays 10,000 crowns. The man goes to the police and confesses to the contact.
He mustn't expect a big reduction in his sentence. He will get a small one. But it seems he made his confession only to protect himself from blackmail.
What would you advise the man to do?
He must accept his punishment. The mentality of a blackmailer is such that if he succeeds at first, he will return again and again. The victim cannot put an end to it unless he makes a confession, and so he must also face the fact that he will later be tried.
May I ask you about the education you receive to become a judge? Do you learn anything about psychology or sexology?
No. In such areas we must look for instruction later, when we need it.
So you regard that as a lack?
Not really. What we need is a certain kind of experience - how to listen to what is being said and how to make a judgment about it. I have never felt the need for formal training either in psychology or in sexology.
[Editor's note: This interview was made in 1984. Sentencing in Denmark has generally been more severe since then due to the heated public debate over "child sexual abuse"..]