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Child abuse in the GDR - First taboo, then ignored

Child abuse was far more taboo in the former GDR than in the West, an abuse committee has found. There was no counselling for victims because, in the socialist state's eyes, child abuse did not officially exist.

A report analyzing 250 cases of child abuse in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) found that the communist East German state offered "no solutions or assistance" to child abuse victims.

"Officially, sexual abuse did not exist" in East Germany, Stefanie Knorr from Gegenwind, a counselling center for those who continue to suffer from the political trauma of the GDR dictatorship, said during Wednesday's hearing into the findings.

Read more: Sexual abuse experienced by one-in-seven young Germans, researchers find

Speaking in Leipzig as part of the commission tasked with investigating child abuse in Germany, Knorr pointed out that there was no professional guidance or therapy for victims in East Germany. "The socialist personality had to be free of psychic abnormalities," she added.

The commission said it launched its investigation into abuse in the GDR after it found noticeably fewer people from the East had been in contact to report their abusive experiences.

Christine Bergmann, a former German family affairs minister, told the public hearing that the "long silence" still had an effect today and that victims continued to feel "stigmatized."

The socialist state's blind eye

Committee members maintained that the reason victims were effectively ignored was because criminal behavior in the GDR was viewed as if it were perpetrated against the socialist state, rather than the victim. 

Read more: Adults ignore children's claims of abuse

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While abusers were sentenced and rehabilitated, the commission found that perpetrators employed by the East German Ministry of State Security (MfS) were dismissed before being given a civilian job as they awaited the court judgement. In some cases, sentenced MfS staff were given new identities and even continued to work for the ministry unofficially after leaving prison.

Abuse was also commonplace in state care homes and orphanages. Corinna Thalheim, who heads an initiative aiming to raise awareness around abuse in the GDR's infamous children's care homes, said that sexual violence against minors had received little public attention since German reunification and that all kinds of abuse perpetrated in the GDR must be investigated and treated equally.

dm/bk (dpa, KPA, AFP)

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