“Speaking without falling into a state of shock”

Lonely teddy bear © Frank Rumpenhorst

Hearing something like this hurts: at the first public hearing of the processing commission, two women tell how their own father abused them and how they suffer from the late consequences.

Maria-Andrea Winter, in her late 50s, says she can't get rid of the images in her head. Her father abused her when she was a child. Her mother knew about it and looked the other way. In therapy, the psychiatrist treating her asked her how she felt about her guilt for the abuse. Nevertheless, she made the jump, trained as a mechanic, later as an occupational therapist. She has often not been a good mother to her own two children because of her trauma. She had simply always lacked lightness and cheerfulness.

Sabrina Tophofen suffered a similar fate: She, too, was abused by her father, an alcoholic, and her mother even blamed her in part for it. The youth welfare office came, but did not intervene. "We were a Sinti family, and they probably thought that such incidents were normal for them."Like Winter, she fled home in her mid-30s – and ended up homeless. In the meantime, Tophofen has completed her secondary education and written two books about her fate. She is the mother of five children.

Reappraisal commission on child sexual abuse

Winter and Tophofen are among some 700 victims who have come forward to the Commission for the Study of Child Sexual Abuse in the past twelve months and who will tell their stories at the Commission's first public hearing. The Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Rorig, had campaigned for it to be launched at the beginning of 2016.

Chairwoman of the panel is Frankfurt social education professor Sabine Andresen. Other members include former German Family Minister Christine Bergmann, Rostock education historian Jens Brachmann, Hamburg sex researcher Peer Briken, honorary professor at the Catholic University of Social Sciences in Berlin Barbara Kavemann, social psychologist Heiner Keupp, and former president of the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court Brigitte Tilmann.

Creating social awareness

Andresen emphasizes that the vast majority of those affected have experienced sexual violence in families, especially at the hands of the father. The commission's concern is also to raise social awareness about this ie. Up to now, the clearing up had been more about sexual violence in boarding schools, schools or church institutions.

It is made difficult for victims to get help. According to Andresen, they are often met with incomprehension by their families and the community. They are often not believed. Kavemann, a sociologist from Berlin, emphasized that those affected are sometimes accused of wanting to destroy the family. Many also lose their families.

High hurdles for state support

The two women involved can confirm this: She had to "withdraw in order to live my own life," says Winter, for example. She founded a self-help group and helped other affected persons. Like Tophofen, she was repeatedly disappointed in her search for support: the hurdles for state support were high, victims had to testify in court hearings under difficult conditions and felt that they were being put on display, and precise descriptions were not sufficient in credibility reports.

Case workers need to know the days on which the abuse took place. This overtaxes those affected.

Tamara Luding, a member of the Council of Victims of Abuse at the Abuse Commissioner, advocates not only legal improvements but also "a culture of conversation that allows victims to tell their stories without falling into a state of shock". After all, those to whom the victims confided should act.

In the meantime, the commission members have listened to many such stories. There is no end in sight. And according to the panel, the next two years, for which the continuation is ared, will not be enough to deal with the ie of sexual abuse in Germany.

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