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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: September 2009

4 - The political path of adoption: feminists and the German state


In 1999, the story of a twenty-two-year-old policewoman, Silvia B. from Bavaria, stirred debates among the German public about the plight of women entering male-dominated workplaces. She worked in a police unit with a reputation for hostility toward women. According to her parents, Silvia B. repeatedly endured harassment by her supervisor, who insulted her by calling her Bauerntrampel (country bumpkin, yokel) and harassed her with descriptions of sexual intercourse. She complained about the supervisor's behavior, but the situation must have felt hopeless. She took her life on February 14, 1999 (Musall and Ulrich 1999).

Silvia B. was not the first young woman police officer to suffer from sexual harassment, nor was she the first to commit suicide. Instead of calling what happened to her sexual harassment, however, the media, the police, and later the judges discussed the case as mobbing – systematic and recurrent harassment and insult. When her parents filed a lawsuit against her direct supervisor for the costs of her burial and infliction of pain, the case went through several courts. Finally, in 2002, the highest court decided that only the Bavarian state as the employer, not the individual harasser, was liable. The court left no doubt that the supervisor's behavior, including the anstöβigen Beleidigungen (immoral offenses), was due to his basic position of hostility against women. But the judgment did not mention sexual harassment, again interpreting the supervisor's behavior as mobbing.

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