April 3, 2019 / 12:11 PM / 8 months ago

Let victims speak, German child abuse inquiry says

BERLIN (Reuters) - A girl on an East German cooperative farm beaten by her father, then raped and traded for sex by her brother. An emotionally troubled boy undressed in “counseling sessions” by a priest at his boarding school. A swimmer abused by his instructor.

These are just three of hundreds of stories revealed by Germany’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which issued an interim report on Wednesday after three years’ work.

The 350-page report, based on testimony from 1,690 people, called for an end to taboos around discussing abuse, so people who had been failed as children should not suffer in adulthood.

But inquiry chair Sabine Andresen, an education professor, warned the inquiry had more to do, with the disabled and children in competitive sport being vulnerable groups the inquiry had not yet reached.

Whether because of their identification with a sport, or their successes in it, such children were often reluctant to come forward, her colleague Brigitte Tillmann said.

Abuse was often hereditary, the inquiry found, with family memories of war or Nazi crimes often at the root of abuse generations later.

Recommendations to the government centred on building support networks for victims to share stories and letting them pay for therapy with health insurance.

The inquiry, part of a global wave of accounting for abuse suffered by children at the hands of institutions of power and prestige, from the Catholic Church to university sports teams, was set up by the German government.

Some 83 percent of the victims it identified were female and more than half had suffered abuse within their family. Almost half were less than six when the abuse began.

The inquiry was originally intended to run for three years but has had its mandate extended to investigate other areas and come up with more concrete proposals for remedies.

“For people like me who had to experience sexual abuse as children, the work of the commission gives us hope,” said Hjoerdis Wirth, a member of a victims’ advisory board. “Finally to be noticed, to have the effects on our lives acknowledged.”

For many victims the inquiry was a chance to address decades-old pain, as was the case with “Andreas” (a pseudonym), who was abused by his swimming instructor.

“I’ve never swam since then, even though it was my favourite thing,” he wrote. “But the worst thing is that years of my childhood are missing. I know what he did back then, but I can’t remember the two years before and after. I don’t remember the good things.”

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by David Holmes

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