The Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse, Christine Bergmann, has pleaded on behalf of the victims for an abolition of the statute of limitations in abuse cases. "Those affected have a clear opinion: get rid of the statute of limitations," Bergmann said. Read the interview here.
CBA: Since May, you have been operating a hotline for victims of sexual abuse. What is the response like?
Bergmann: So far, about 1.500 people reported. Of those, about 700 by letter or email, the rest by phone.
CBA: What period of time are the cases about??
Bergmann: Most are far behind. The oldest person affected is 80 years old. He spoke for the first time about what happened to him. By the way, this applies to half of all those who come forward. They find it extremely important that they now have the opportunity to do so.
CBA: From which walks of life do the victims come?
Bergmann: More than half come from the Catholic Church – which is probably due to the social debate. The rest are from other institutions, the Protestant Church, sports clubs, schools, but also families. Families in particular should not be forgotten. At the moment, people are also coming forward who have noticed something and are now asking for advice.
CBA: Recently you have spoken with many victims. What is their main concern?
Bergmann: All of them want what they had to endure to be acknowledged as a terrible injustice. They want everything to be said and clarified, and all perpetrators to be held accountable. They have experienced a double injustice, so to speak: On the one hand, the abuse itself and, on the other, that they did not find help even when they sought it. They also want at all costs to prevent similar things from happening to children today. This is also a reminder to politicians and society to believe children immediately when there are relevant indications.
CBA: Repentant perpetrators also come forward?
Bergmann: Very few perpetrators come forward. However, I haven't heard of any remorse yet.
CBA: And what do the victims report?
Bergmann: Very shocking things. One realizes how much what they had to endure – abuse and mistreatment – has negatively determined their lives. The wounds are often still open. Of course, people are dealing with what happened in different ways. Some are very emotional and still full of rage, others are broken by it. Many have tried therapy and realize how much time it takes to cope.
CBA: How important do you think it is to involve external experts??
Bergmann: Everything must be put on the table. If the victims now experience that there is an attempt not to name one or the other, then that is again a deep violation. Especially in institutions where the abuse was covered up for a long time, real reappraisal can often only take place when someone from the outside comes forward. We have had this experience at Canisius College or the Odenwald School. That is certainly the more credible solution. I think it's wrong to do clarification only internally.
CBA: What possibilities of reparation do you see?
Bergmann: Those affected have very different opinions. Some would at least like to have therapy paid for. But there are also people who have been so thrown off course that they are demanding more extensive financial compensation for what they have experienced. Not as hush money, though. However, the question of financial compensation is a difficult ie that we still have to deal with.
CBA: What do victims think about extending the statute of limitations??
Miner: Those affected have a clear opinion: get rid of the statute of limitations. This is also about sending a signal to society to prosecute the perpetrators, regardless of what else you can prove. Moreover, those affected do not want to be patronized, they want to decide for themselves whether or not to take legal action.
CBA: When should authorities get involved?
Bergmann: Those affected do not demand mandatory reporting. The counseling centers are also almost exclusively against it, because they are worried that victims will then stop coming forward. I think those affected have to come to the point themselves in counseling or therapy where they say, I want to file a complaint or not. If this were decided over her head, I would have misgivings.
CBA: Are there differences in the abuse cases in the institutions?
Bergmann: There are certainly differences, but there are also many patterns of behavior that are the same in all institutions, even in families. For example, that the abuse should definitely have been seen by many. You don't pursue things because you're afraid for your own existence or the image of the institution. This mentality leads to the protection of perpetrators, and the protection of victims falls by the wayside. If we really want to protect children, it must be clear to the perpetrators that they will be held accountable. Interview: Inga Kilian and Christoph Scholz