International

Sexual abuse: family members should be named as potential perpetrators – politically

Education, willingness, courage – that should be the ABCs of adults in protecting children from sexual violence. It is gradually seeping into the public consciousness that statistically one or two boys or girls in every school class experience sexual assault. In the vast majority of cases, it ‘happens’ in the family: the perpetrators are mothers and fathers, partners of a parent or other family members.

The fairy tale of the strange man crouching in the bushes on the playground to grab a victim still appears in the crime thriller, but is gradually being passed over. As a society, we have known more for a long time.

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But where families do not provide protection, only those institutions where children reside outside the family can be active, such as kindergartens, schools and leisure homes. On Thursday, the Independent Federal Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues (UBSKM), Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, invites you to a press conference on the topic “Sexual Violence and School: Current Research Results for School Practice”. It is an important step for Rörig and his team to put school on the agenda, because it is often left out of the prevention discourse.

Afraid of sensitive subjects

There are several reasons for this. Even projects aimed at raising the awareness of children and young people are afraid to name family members as potential perpetrators. Teachers often shy away from discussing sensitive, personal topics – also not to be misunderstood themselves.

These, in turn, are biased when it comes to their sexuality and see themselves as ‘victims’ – a popular swear word in schoolyards for years. They also prefer to entrust themselves to external experts. But these are not widely available, and wherever they are, they are often fully booked.

Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig explains that schools “can be an important haven for affected children and young people”, while there is also “criminal abuse”, especially “in the form of sexualized border violations through bullying, coercion or the publication of intimate photos”. Therefore, structural and educational protection measures are urgently needed. Limit violations in children are symptoms; everything children learn, they learn from adults.

But there will be mountains of ignorance and resistance to overcome. This is not only the case in Germany. In France, the case of eight-year-old Marina Sabatier shocked the public, who died of the abuse of her parents. In 2019 a poignant film was made, “La Maladroite” (The Clumsy) by Éléonore Faucher. Although teachers had documented the child’s wounds, neither they nor doctors, youth welfare agencies or social workers wanted to and could intervene adequately.

If the strategies of avoidance and denial are to be lifted, the Conference of Education and Culture Ministers must be resurrected. The fundamental cultural change can only start from the top down, only centrally, and should not be left to a federal or regional child protection lottery.

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