“We need to clarify what the perpetrators themselves can contribute”

At the start of the Round Table on Child Abuse, Federal Family Minister Kristina Schroder (CDU) urged that perpetrators not be released from responsibility. We should not only look at the institutions, she said in an epd interview in Berlin.

epd: The Abuse Round Table, which will meet for the first time on Friday, will be attended by some 60 representatives of the federal government, the states, local authorities, associations, churches and other institutions. How are the victims represented?
Kristina Schroder: Victims' side played a major role from the beginning. We have therefore invited central child protection associations and nationwide associations of counseling centers for victims of sexual violence: These include the organization Wildwasser, which is represented by its umbrella organization , as well as a counseling center that specializes in men and boys as victims of abuse. The White Ring, which supports victims of crime, is also at the table, as are associations that provide counseling and intervention services. So the concerns of the victims are well represented.
epd: The contact and counseling centers for victims unanimously say they are underfunded. Can and should the federal government also provide funds? About the same as it helps finance the expansion of child care?
Schroder: I take the statements of the organizations very seriously, we have to talk about that at the round table. But it's too early for announcements. Round table must first take stock. What do we have to offer and where are there gaps? In very many communities there is already a good offer of help.
epd: Where do you see gaps?
Schroeder: We must also take care of the therapy of pedophilic men. There are already some very good projects, for example "Kein Tater werden" in Berlin. We must now examine how we can create more such qualified contact points in Germany to which pedophile men can turn before they become perpetrators. The topic has received too little attention so far.
epd: Another key ie is compensation for victims. What is your position on this?
Schroder: We have appointed the former Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Christine Bergmann, as our commissioner, and she has taken up her work with great enthusiasm. It collects reports of the victims and will make suggestions to material and immaterial compensation payments by the responsible ones. The state only comes into play when state authorities, for example school supervision, have failed. The point is that those who are responsible also live up to their responsibility.
epd: So the institutions, the churches?
Schroder: The institutions are one thing. But I also agree with Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who criticizes that we are currently only talking about the institutions and not actually about the individual offenders. We think too quickly about the system, but not about individual responsibility. Of course, compensation for a victim must not fail because the perpetrator is unable to pay. But I think it is crucial in terms of individual justice that we clarify what the perpetrators themselves can contribute.
epd: Legally, however, individual perpetrators can no longer be apprehended 20 to 30 years after the abuse, because the statute of limitations has run on the act. Do you think it is realistic for a perpetrator to voluntarily compensate his victim?
Schroder: I draw a very sharp distinction here between the legal question of whether a claim may be statute-barred and the moral question of whether one actually invokes the statute of limitations. These are two completely different levels. I therefore do not consider it unrealistic that either individual perpetrators or employment institutions such as the churches will be willing to pay compensation in view of the moral dimension.
epd: The churches say they need a legal basis for payments. Since these have not existed until now, fund solutions are easier to handle. This was also suggested by the moderator of the Round Table on Home Education, Antje Vollmer. Do you think it makes sense to move toward a fund solution at the Abuse Round Table??
Schroder: Antje Vollmer, as moderator of the Round Table Home Education, has suggested a fund for victims with trauma. We will certainly discuss the question at the Round Table on Child Abuse, but the outcome is open.
epd: When will the round table answer this question??
Schroder: In any case, an interim report should be available by the end of the year. Then it will become clear what still needs to be done.
epd: The family is by far the place where sexual abuse occurs most often. Is it possible to 'crack' this area?
Schroder: We will never be able to completely prevent child abuse. But there are processes we can intervene in. Perpetrators almost always test out first how far they can go. We know that children who reject advances or avoid contact are less likely to become victims. Here's where you can chime in. We have the Conference of Education Ministers at the table: Abuse must be an ie in schools. Children must know that in every case the perpetrator is to blame, that abuse always happens against the will of the child and who they can turn to.
epd: Are you in favor of extending the statute of limitations for victims' civil claims so that a right to compensation is preserved longer?
Schroder: There is a conviction among many members of parliament that these deadlines are too short.
epd: What would you like to see as a result of the Round Table?
Schroder: What we need are clear rules, perhaps in the form of voluntary commitments, about what institutions do to prevent and intervene. We also need to agree on what the relationship between proximity and distance should be. And: It would be fatal if a general suspicion were to arise against male educators.
epd: Then at the end you have a new action plan, everyone sits back satisfied, and nothing happens.
Schroder: No, then it must be implemented. The action plan should include mandates for the various institutions and levels of government. After a reasonable period of time, the tasks must be implemented. I want to see results.
epd: Too little has happened in the past? There is already an action plan, a federal-state working group and elaborated concepts.
Schroder: I would not say that too little has happened in general. Sexual abuse still takes place. However, we are currently dealing with cases that, for the most part, date back decades. In this respect, one cannot blame the institutions in their current structure for the cases at that time. Good educational work is being done on the subject – but we still have to do better overall.Interview: Bettina Markmeyer, Thomas Schiller and Jutta Wagemann

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