A round-table forum aimed at preventing child abuse convened for the first time on Friday in Berlin, chaired by government commissioner Christine Bergmann. The forum intends to break the silence on the issue, she said.
Three cabinet ministers attended Friday's meeting
The German government convened its new round-table forum on child abuse on Friday, under the supervision of the recently appointed commissioner for child abuse, Christine Bergmann.
After Friday's three-hour initial conference, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger spoke of an encouraging meeting with an open atmosphere. All involved had stressed the importance of finding practical proposals, the minister said.
The forum consists of 61 participants, including politicians, lawyers, doctors, psychologists and representatives of teachers' organizations, sports clubs and churches, who intend to develop new concepts designed to help victims and prevent the kind of systematic abuse in German schools and church institutions revealed in the past months.
Child abuse victims will be able to contact commissioner Christine Bergmann directly
Speaking to the Deutschlandfunk public radio station before the meeting, Bergmann emphasized the importance of using the forum to break the social taboos around child abuse. "Whether it occurs in church institutions, schools, or in family circles, there are conspiracies of silence everywhere," she said.
Bergmann also said she believed one of her main roles was to be a contact point for abuse victims, and that she herself would be contactable by telephone.
Because of the size of the forum, it is to be divided into three working groups, directed by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Family Minister Kristina Schroeder and Education Minister Annette Schavan.
Originally, only two working groups had been planned – one dealing with helping abuse victims, and another dealing with prevention. But now a third is to be introduced, to be headed by Schavan, which will research and propose reforms into the way doctors and nurses are trained to recognize and treat sexual abuse victims.
Bergmann's role as commissioner is to document the number and extent of child abuse cases, to create a hotline for victims, and to come up with suggestions for compensation and psychological support. "Christine Bergmann is our representative for all victims," Schroeder said.
There has been strong criticism from victim support groups that no abuse victims are present on the panel. Norbert Denef, a former abuse victim and chairman of NetzwerkB, a support network for victims of sexual violence, said, "The authorities have never actually talked to the victims. They've always talked about them, as so-called experts. In the last twelve weeks more and more victims have come out and spoken publicly. We have to use and recognize that."
More money for abuse victims
Speaking to the Suedwestrundfunk radio station Friday morning, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for more financial support for child abuse victims.
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"Many victims do not expect to get any financial help at all – all they can hope for is some kind of recognition of their past suffering," she said. "That is why we should talk about providing financial help, or allowances for help received in the past, like doctor's treatment and psychotherapy." This will form the subject of the second phase of the round-table forum, but Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that the negotiations "would be difficult."
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested other issues for the round-table forum, including extending the time limitations on child abuse crimes, and making children's rights part of the German constitution. She said she expected "exciting debates."
The forum is set to convene again in September. In the meantime, the three working groups are scheduled to hold two meetings each. An interim report is expected by the end of the year.
Editor: Susan Houlton