A Plea for Protection of Personal Integrity

The Grand Chamber is preparing to deliver its judgment in Söderman v. Sweden. This European Court of Human Rights case involves a 14-year-old girl who was covertly filmed by her stepfather while she was undressing prior to taking a shower. Subsequently, her mother immediately burned the tape and did not report the incident until two years later. Consequently, the stepfather was prosecuted for child molestation and was convicted, but then acquitted on appeal in 2007. The court held that he could not be guilty of child molestation because he never intended for the girl to find out about the tape and there was no general legal prohibition of taping her without her consent at that time. The appeal court concluded that although he might have been found guilty of child pornography, the prosecution did not raise this issue, so the court could not consider it.  In December 2007, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Ms. Söderman, now in her mid-20s, based her recent complaint on the Swedish legal system’s lack of protecting her personal integrity by not prohibiting this sort of act. She relies on Article 8, right to respect for private life, of the European Convention on Human Rights. She complains that Sweden failed to comply with its obligation to provide her with remedies – whether criminal or civil – against her stepfather’s violation. The application was filed with the European Court of Human Rights in 2008. In 2012, the Chamber held that there was no violation of Article 8. On Nov. 19, 2012, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber at Ms. Söderman’s request. A hearing was held in April 2013 and a judgment is expected within the next week.

Hopefully, the Grand Chamber will be able to set a healthier precedent, rectify these mistaken decisions, and not condone this appalling behavior anymore. There must be a remedy for this victim.  I cannot see how any court of law can accept this monster’s behavior and leave no remedy left for the innocent, young victim.

Considering the lower courts’ decisions, do you think the Grand Chamber will reverse in this case? What do you think will happen if it does not reverse? Will there be any outcry or backlash by other countries for acquiescing to this behavior? What kind of public policy would be created if the Court excused this behavior? What would the appropriate remedy be for an act that happened a decade ago? What would make this victim “whole” again?

Sources: ECHR

Picture: Wikipedia

2 comments

  1. This is appalling and one that I believe the lower courts got wrong. In addition, Ms. Söderman’s mother should have immediately reported this incident instead of burning the tape and waiting two years to report it. Furthermore, I cannot believe the prosecution did not raise the issue of child pornography. This case should’ve have ended with the stepfather being convicted of child molestation and child pornography, if not more. The appeal court’s decision shows you that the law hasn’t caught up to the times when this case went to appeal. There may have been no general legal prohibition of taping her without her consent at that time but now things are quite different. Also, the fact that the stepfather never intended for her to find out about the tape should not make any difference in his conviction. There is clearly a right and a wrong here. Her rights were clearly violated. I certainly hope the Grand Chamber will reverse this case.

  2. I would like to know the reasoning behind the conclusion that there was no violation of Article 8. Indeed, I really cannot imagine a more blatant violation of “the right to respect of private life.” But besides the blatant violation ignored by the European Court of Human Rights, the real problem is with the protections afforded – or not afforded – by the Swedish legal system. How could there not be some statutory or common-law framework that Sweden could have worked with to make taping an undressing young girl illegal? Maybe that could have been the case with the appellate courts suggestion that the prosecution dropped the ball by missing the child pornography charge, but maybe not. Cases like these make can lead one to question the direction of a sovereign’s legal system. I, for one, would be hesitant to let a child visit a nation that seems to be severely lacking in the protection of individual privacy rights.

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