“I don't want understanding, i want cooperation”

The Protestant Church in Germany sees itself on a good path in coming to terms with abuse. The people concerned see it differently. Kerstin Claus thinks that there is still a long way to go before we can really come to terms with the situation and criticizes the fact that victims are emotionalized.

Interviewer: What exactly do you criticize about the reappraisal in the Protestant church??

Kerstin Claus (journalist, member of the victims' council attached to the Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse): First of all, you have to understand that before you can work through the abuse at all, you have to clear up the cases when those affected come forward. I already notice that cases are not cleared up, but instead one goes perhaps fast into an acknowledgment payment.

That means: First of all it has to be clarified what it is about? Then it needs the management level, which has to work on the ground. Then they need a structure, so to speak, that works its way through all levels in such a way that it has an effect on the ground and that those affected actually, if they come forward today, get into better, more transparent procedures. And all this does not happen. First of all, it is not cleared up and then no reappraisal can be based on that. That is, they simply do not exist yet.

Interviewer: And what would be the next optimal step, of which you would say: That's what the Protestant church has to do now?

Claus: If you look at what would be reprocessing? Then it would be: I report to a regional church. Then it is looked at, what is there to what I have done? The matter is dealt with under disciplinary law, so to speak, and then, as part of the process of coming to terms with it, we look at what were the favoring factors? Who has not looked there? Where existed offender protection? In reappraisal, it is very important to be in a structure where those affected must be involved on an equal footing, and the sovereignty of interpretation does not lie with the church.

If this is then made permanent, if these processes are reflected on site in the parishes, then I can also start with prevention. Then I actually operate the prevention of future acts, because everyone knows what it is about. This must be learned in the institutions and also in the Protestant Church.

Interviewer: The Bishop of Braunschweig, Christoph Meyns, has now taken on the task as the new spokesman for the Council of Representatives for Protection against Sexualized Violence in the Evangelical Church. What do you wish from the cooperation and perhaps also from him??

Claus: We have already met several times in different processes. I would say now spontaneously, he remained relatively pale with the topic. I have not noticed any particular affinity for this topic so far. He is certainly someone who also likes to have an eleven-point plan, checking it off as if it were a checklist. But that doesn't work with the ie because you have to bring quality to the process.

It strikes me that in his regional church he has been talking for years about the fact that there are exactly seven affected reports so far. Then one must look then perhaps nevertheless times also internally with it the structures, whether then at all conditions were created, so that concerning can announce itself. I would like to see him really start to deal intensively with the subject, so that he can really set an active course.

Interviewer: So far there are almost 900 people who have come forward in the context of abuse. Do you ame that there is still a large number of unreported cases??

Claus: From my point of view yes, because if you look at the study in the Catholic Church, then you come to a group of victims, which is mainly between eight and twelve years at the time of the crime. In the evangelical setting via youth work, confirmation, the core phases so to speak, those affected are very often older. And then it is actually also individually more difficult to recognize that this was not the first failed love affair, but that this was sexualized violence, that this was abuse, because supposedly you could have said "no," at an older adolescent age. And that is just not it. I ame that the number is significantly higher and that the EKD has not yet created any structures so that victims can report to independent agencies, i.e. 900 victims at present. This is definitely still the beginning.

Interviewer: What is it, then, that the Protestant Church and perhaps also the Catholic Church can learn and must learn in dealing with sexual abuse and, above all, with those affected by it??

Claus: We experience again and again that when we criticize on a very structural level, when we demand improvements, that we are emotionalized again and again. Then it is said, "I understand your disappointment". At the same time, this is a factual criticism. There is no well-founded dealing on an equal level, but there is always the evasion in "I understand that this burdens you" and that is always a marginalization. Those affected must be perceived in their expertise, in their knowledge also about perpetrator strategies.

This is what all institutions need, so that those affected are not always reduced to their role as victims and then always meet a pitiful church, so to speak. In the sense of "we have great understanding for their difficult situation". I don't want understanding, I want cooperation. I want cooperation and I want improvement. And that is what these structures must learn.

The interview was conducted by Gerald Mayer.

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