“Political measures have not arrived”

The Cologne-based counseling center Zartbitter is committed to the prevention of abuse © Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

For years, several children were abused at a campsite in Lippe County. Why did it remain undiscovered? More educational work is needed, says counselor Ursula Enders. She calls for more counseling centers instead of political tokenism.

Interviewer: How do you react to such reports?

Ursula Enders (director at Zartbitter in Cologne): I'm not surprised, because we've had such large, complex cases before. I remember cases of organized crime in the 1990s. I remember whole family clans. At that time, it was not yet widely reported in the media.

I feel sorry for the victims and at the same time I am a bit relieved that finally attention is being paid to these cases.

Interviewer: 23 victims were abused for over ten years. What do those affected need most urgently now??

Enders: What do they not need above all? They can't use gaffers. They need a normal everyday life and not people whispering and talking about them as they walk by. They must be allowed to play. They really need normality. And besides that they certainly need trauma therapy services.

Interviewer: Crime scene is a campground, a supposedly public area. How is it possible that the main perpetrator could abuse so many victims there?

Enders: I have had cases at campgrounds before – although not in this number of victims. But the phenomenon is not new to me. Campgrounds often have a "buddy" atmosphere. There it is: It goes a little further. He's a little foolish. You don't have to take it so seriously.

I think there has been a lot of evidence. But they have not been thought through consistently. In addition, I ame that the perpetrator presented himself as very fond of children and, above all, took care to cloud the perception of the environment so that it would not be suspicious.

Interviewer: But how is it possible that the smoke screen of abuse works over and over again and sometimes for years people who live right next to it don't notice anything?

Enders: This is due to a deficit in public education work. We absolutely need really good information about perpetrator strategies and that includes information for parents, friends and children. Because most information about sexual abuse comes from the perpetrators themselves, who keep the children silent. Conspicuous are for example oversized gifts, sexist sayings, sucking up or if adults deal primarily with children.

Interviewer: What do I do when I overhear something?

Enders: Then I hope there is a counseling center near them. But we have the misfortune that these are not yet financially secured by politics. In NRW there is also still no support for the counseling centers, for example analogous to the women's counseling centers. It should have been around by now.

Interviewer: What would you ask of politicians??

Enders: Yes, politicians need to set up nationwide counseling centers where people can go with their suspicions. We can often reare them and say: Don't worry so much. But we also think about how to talk to the child without scaring him or her.

We think together with the people. We want to support the children. Therefore, we need to offer more ways to make a guess. We experience again and again: If people talk about the topic calmly and calmly, children experience them as trustworthy – and they also tell a lot more.

Interviewer: You have been working on this ie of sexual abuse prevention for 40 years. How do you assess the situation in Germany at the moment – compared to 40 years ago??

Enders: At that time it was dangerous to work on the topic. There was persecution, there were death threats – that no longer exists today. The topic has reached the center of society. The population is much more aware and cases are more likely to come to light today.

The drama that we really have, and which shocks me extraordinarily, is that politics has not followed up on this and has not secured adequate aid to date. That is nationwide. Of course, an independent commissioner was appointed, and officials were appointed.

But nothing has arrived in practice. I don't want us to have political tokenism about functions. We need functionaries. It's important to keep the topic and there's movement there too. But politically responsible is only the member of the state parliament, the member of the federal parliament, the local politicians, who really guarantee the protection.

The interview was conducted by Martin Molder.

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