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Opinion

Opinion: Focus on the perpetrator, not the victims

A short statement, a brief confession - but there was no punishment for Sebastian Edathy. Legally, it may have been sound. But an unpleasant aftertaste remains, says DW's Jens Thurau.

Why in the world did it take former German lawmaker Sebastian Edathy so long to come up with those short, simple sentences? He didn't even utter them himself, although that would have been possible.

Edathy had his lawyer say what everyone actually wanted to hear from him in person: he obtained videos and pictures of naked children via the Internet, that is, child pornography. He had always denied any criminal action - now, the cat is out of the bag. And because Edathy admitted it, he goes scot-free.

To make things clear: legally, that's OK. It's common practice in German courtrooms for the parties involved to agree to close the trial if the crime is minimal and the defendant confesses. With reassuring calm, the state court in Verden exercised that option.

DW-Mitarbeiter Jens Thurau

Jens Thurau is a DW correspondent in Berlin

Dimension of the accusation

But a feeling of unease remains concerning Edathy and a prosecution that had little to work with, but seemed hellbent on convicting the prominent defendant.

For a year, Edathy avoided the public; on Facebook, he ranted about prejudgment, giving the impression that he was being given a raw deal. He hinted at mistakes, but he never said what they were. People never got the feeling, not even in court, that he understood the severity of the accusation: possession of child pornography.

Sure, his political career is over, but a politician the likes of Edathy must have known what he was doing. Not everyone with pedophile leanings necessarily takes action. Edathy did, even if he won't be punished.

And the prosecution? One of the prosecutors gave a few reporters the final report on the investigation. That leaves the impression that the prosecuting body didn't plan to go home from this trial without the loot. Although the charges were minor, Edathy was to publicly confess, in the presence of the courtroom audience and the media.

Can that be justified with the right of the public to learn as much as possible about such spectacular trials against celebrities? Hardly.

Protect victims, help potential offenders

The end result won't help the cause. Buying child porn, or creating it, is a terrible crime; punishment is harsh, as well it should be. It's hard to bear the fact that gray zones exist, loopholes that allow people who own seemingly innocuous material to go free of punishment.

People with pedophile leanings need to understand that they may never, ever give in to their proclivities, not physically and not on the Internet. They need to understand that they can seek help on how to deal with their nature - but that was never talked about in the courtroom, nor in discussions about Edathy in Berlin political circles. Debate centered mainly on who knew about the accusations against Edathy, when, and from whom. Not much mention was made of the suffering of the abused children.

It's possible that the Edathy case will still be a topic of discussion. It's possible that heads will roll in the Social Democrat Party when its revealed that Edathy was aware of the inquiry, and who told him about it.

It's less likely that there will be a broad debate on child pornography, and how to deal with the victims and the perpetrators.

And that is utterly deplorable.