“This has taken a lot out of me”

In March 2010, the German government had appointed Christine Bergmann to head the central contact point for victims of abuse and to submit recommendations to the German government's Round Table on "Child Sexual Abuse". On Tuesday, the SPD politician will present her final report.

The task has cost the former Federal Minister for Family Affairs a lot of energy. Last week, the Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse told the Hamburg weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" that she had experienced suffering that "I could not have imagined on this scale". "I was personally very taken aback by this."

Since March 2010, Bergmann's contact office has received around 15.000 calls, e-mails and letters received. More than 60 percent of the cases happened in the family and social environment, the 71-year-old reports. Among institutions, the Catholic Church leads the way with 45 percent of all cases.

For Bergmann, one thing is certain: "Abuse often lasts a lifetime, even when the acts themselves are long gone."The feeling of powerlessness does not let go of the victims, penetrates their relationships and their families and robs them of their basic trust in other people. For more than half of the callers, it was the first time they had spoken about the abuse they had suffered, she reports. "The wounds are often still open."

Concrete political measures
On several occasions, the former family minister has spoken out in favor of concrete political measures: In addition to more counseling and financial aid for therapies, however, victims also wanted recognition of their suffering. "They want the perpetrators to admit their guilt, institutions to admit their failure and take responsibility," she says. In addition, there must be better prevention, for example through further training and sensitization of those responsible in associations, kindergartens and youth welfare. On the controversial ie of mandatory reporting, she points out that both the victims and the counseling centers are clearly opposed to it. The procedures are often so grueling and traumatizing for the victims that many of those affected would not come forward out of fear if they were required to report the abuse.

The SPD politician considers the hotly debated question of compensation to be extremely complicated. In March, Bergmann had recommended to the Round Table a joint aid fund for victims of child sexual abuse. The fund's resources should go primarily to therapy and counseling, but could also include compensation payments and hardship provisions, she said. However, it did not give concrete figures on the financial scope. In the "Zeit" interview, she specified that in addition to the institutions involved, the state must also offer compensation. The government is "clearly part of the obligation, especially when it comes to help for cases that happened long ago and for people who were abused in their families."

500.000 euros for a "prevention fund
As vague as Bergmann's proposals remain when it comes to compensation, the concept that the German Bishops' Conference already decided on last fall – as the first of the institutions involved in the Round Table – is firmly outlined. Catholic institutions pay victims of sexual assault up to 5.000 euros if they can no longer enforce their claims in court due to the statute of limitations. In addition, the church ames the costs for psychotherapy. In particularly serious cases, higher compensationmme can also be paid.

In addition, the church wants 500.000 euros to be made available for a "prevention fund. This is connected first of all with the rejection of a possible common fund for the amption of therapy costs, as Bergmann and Federal Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP) favor. The church points out that religious orders and dioceses have already been aming such costs "for quite some time" if they are not financed by the health insurance funds.

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