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Poster reading 'Who breaks the silence, breaks the power of the perpetrator'
The campaign tells victims that talking can heal mental woundsImage: dapd

Speaking out

September 21, 2010

In response to the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, thousands of German victims are being targeted by a new campaign that aims to end their silent suffering. The message is that talking helps.


In response to cases of child abuse within the Jesuit Order in Germany earlier this year, the government in March established the post of an independent commissioner and also set up a telephone hotline for victims to speak about their suffering and seek help.

Since then, about 2,500 Germans have made contact with her office, said commissioner Christine Bergmann, adding "some 60 percent of them have never previously talked about what happened to them".

On average,the victims were now "in their 50s", she said, with the abuse having taken place "mostly some 20, or sometimes even 40 or 50 years ago."

Clerical culprits

Almost 50 percent of sex abuse cases reported took place in German institutions, primarily in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as on a lesser scale in sports clubs and at schools.

Canisius College building in winter
At Berlin's Canisius College, run by Jesuits, first cases of abuse were reported in January 2010Image: AP

Some 34 percent of the callers claimed to have been abused within their own families or by acquaintances.

"While the perpetrators were more than 80 percent male, it was surprising to see that almost as many men as women were victims of sexual abuse", said Joerg Fegert, director of the Ulm University Clinic, who heads the team analysing the calls.

Clear message

Fegert said the figures his team compiled with the prior consent of the victims were "far from representative for the entire German population".

Nevertheless the message the victims wanted to send to the general public was "very clear".

"They believe it's important to have someone who finally listens to them and believes what they say," he said. "Compensation is also an issue because it would mean that the victims' suffering is officially acknowledged."

A key demand for politics was to make sure that a statute of limitations on sexual abuse was completely abolished, Fegert said, because victims' suffering didn't end after a certain time limit.

Raising public awareness

A telephone
A telephone hotline has been set up for victimsImage: AP

Independent commissioner Christine Bergmann on Tuesday also launched a public campaign aimed at ending "decades of ignorance about the issue of sexual abuse in Germany".

A special Internet website, as well as newspaper and television advertisements, are intended to publicise the abuse telephone hotline, so that many more victims can " break out of their isolation".

German filmmaker Wim Wenders produced a special TV spot entitled: "Breaking the silence breaks the power of the perpetrator".

"Ignoring bad things has a long tradition in Germany", Wenders said, "but this ignorance perpetuates the trauma and must be ended to prevent cases of sexual abuse from happening again."

Experts' roundtable

Round-table talks organized by the German government are scheduled to be held in November to discuss legal issues concerning sexual abuse, as well as medical and financial aid for the victims.

A group of victims who were sexually abused by members of the Catholic Jesuit Order said on Monday they would seek compensation payments of more than 80,000 euros ( $105,000) for each of the 205 victims.

German Catholic Bishops, currently meeting for their autumn session in Fulda, said this sum was hard to imagine , and that they would seek a broader agreement on compensation with the government in November.

Author: Uwe Hessler (KNA/dpa/dapd)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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