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In February 2023, a German ballet director forcibly smeared dog feces into the face of a journalist. The director said the journalist had written scathingly critical reviews of his work for years, and had "thrown shit at me for years". When the journalist visited a performance of a piece he directed, he confronted her in the opera lobby, started a discussion and finally smeared her with dog feces from a bag he had with him.

While this is certainly despicable behavior, would it count as a crime? The attack, while disgusting, did not cause bodily harm, since feces can be washed off. It is really an attack exploiting the person's sense of disgust and a form of humiliation - but I think humiliating someone is in itself not criminal. So, what crime would that be? Some form of assault?

I am most interested in answers about German laws, but other answers are welcome, too.

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  • Related question: Is it assault to squirt someone with a spray bottle?
    – sleske
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 10:30
  • Insult is a crime in germany, compare: law.stackexchange.com/q/62457/10334 & law.stackexchange.com/a/86228/10334
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 10:36
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    "Did not cause bodily harm" Dog feces carries all kinds of diseases. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 11:08
  • I think you need to add a bit of context. I didn't follow this exactly, but there was a reason for this action, and that might be relevant.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 13:36
  • Not sure if Germany has a law similar to Common Law's Assault, but Assault is a broad crime that includes among other things, physical contact that is unwanted but is not physically harmful to the victim, though I would consider this "Battery", especially considering the very unhealthy nature of doing this. Note that the names for the two crimes varies in many different jurisdictions.
    – hszmv
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 14:26

4 Answers 4

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tl;dr: As far as I can see, in this would be covered under Körperverletzung (literally: "bodily harm", Strafgesetzbuch (StGB) § 223), and possibly under Beleidigung (insult, §185 StGB).

Public broadcaster NDR reports that Goecke is in fact being investigated for committing these offences - Nach Hundekot-Attacke: Staatsoper Hannover trennt sich von Goecke.


While the title of the law "Körperverletzung" refers to "Verletzung" (injury), the actual text is more complex:

(1) Wer eine andere Person körperlich mißhandelt oder an der Gesundheit schädigt, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu fünf Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.

English (from official translation):

(1) Whoever physically assaults or damages the health of another person incurs a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine.

So, Körperverletzung is one of two things:

  • actual bodily harm, or
  • physical mistreatment (or assault)

This means that mistreatment is covered, even if it does not result in medical harm or injury. For example, in 2016, a court found an accused guilty of Körperverletzung for putting a dead bird into the letterbox of a court. The repulsion which a court employee felt when finding the dead, decaying bird was considered to be a form of mistreatment.

While a court would need to decide, smearing someone with feces seems reasonably similar to making them touch a rotting bird corpse, so it would likely be covered by the same law.

In addition to that, dog feces may cause real health problems, such as allergic reactions or infections. This would obviously qualify as Körperverletzung, but may be harder to prove.


In addition to that, the humiliation caused by the act might also count as a form of insult (Beleidigung, §185 StGB). Note that §185 StGB explicitly mentions an insult committed via a physical act ("mittels einer Tätlichkeit") as an aggravating circumstance.

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    Humiliation (Demütigung) itself does not exist as a criminal offence. Nevertheless, humiliation as a result can be punishable. A humiliation can contain, for example, an insult according to §185 StGB or defamation according to §187 StGB. Text from: Demütigung ᐅ Definition, Bedeutung & Beispiel - Jura (in German) Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 23:20
  • @MarkJohnson: Interesting - that sounds like an answer. Maybe add it as an answer? ;-)
    – sleske
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 8:50
  • Why not just add it to your answer as another possiblity. Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 13:19
  • @MarkJohnson: Done :-).
    – sleske
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 13:56
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    @ohwilleke Yes: Oper trennt sich von Ballettchef Goecke Die Polizei ermittelt wegen Beleidigung und Körperverletzung. (Police are investigating for insult (§185 StGB) and assault (§223 StGB).) Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:55
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Taking the description of events at face value, and absent any affirmative defences, this would be assault: intentionally applying force, directly or indirectly, to another person without their consent. See Criminal Code, s. 265.

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  • Interesting - this section explicitly mentions "applying force... without consent" - that fits my question very well. I'm curious whether other jurisdictions also consider this a crime.
    – sleske
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 12:34
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    Wouldn't 245 "Administering noxious thing" be more appropriate?
    – user71659
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 22:46
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After reading this guidance from The Crown Prosecution Service, I'd say this constitutes 'unlawfully and maliciously administer[ing] to or caus[ing] to be administered to or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, with intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy such person' under section 24 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

ETA: the action also constitutes common assault, but the Court of Appeal ruling in Veysey v. R (2019) makes clear that the appropriate charge is administering etc., rather than common assault.

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It is certainly not necessary for an act to "cause bodily harm" for it to be criminal in .

From the CPS guidance on charging standards, "common assault" is "any act (and not mere omission to act) by which a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to suffer or apprehend immediate unlawful violence." (my emphasis).

In this context "apprehend" roughly means "expect".

Reading further in the page, it is not clear whether it would be prosecutable as "Assault occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)".

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    Veysey v. R. (2019) concerns offences of 'throwing at a prison officer, or smearing a prison officer with, urine, faeces or a mixture of the two', and the Court of Appeal ruling states 'it is wholly unrealistic to treat offences of this nature as if they were no more than a common assault'. The appropriate charge was held to be 'unlawfully and maliciously administer[ing] to... any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, with intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy such person'. Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 11:48

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