How can we better protect children? – SWR . knowledge

Every fifth child can be affected by sexual violence. Perpetrators often come from their families.















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Sexual violence against children and youth is widespread and remains a major taboo in society, and it is estimated that every five children have experienced sexual violence. This is evidenced by a current dark field study from Mannheim.

Many of the perpetrators come from their families. But it is precisely in this isolated environment that it is difficult to protect children.

Perpetrators manipulate their victims in order to protect them

A recent study by the University of Frankfurt shows that almost every second offender comes from the family: fathers, mothers’ fathers, grandparents, uncles, brothers. She is often protected by family members, not least the victim himself, as Clarissa Vogel describes from her own experience:

“The mere fact that the culprit came from my family also gave me a feeling that I didn’t want to betray my family. He was the one taking care of me. I was also dependent on him.”

For ten years she had to endure sexual abuse by her father. Martina Hack shows that family offenders often brutally exploit the child’s proximity, child dependency, and solidarity. As a therapist and counsellor, she herself has taken care of victims of sexual violence for many years. Perpetrators often silence the victim by threatening that something bad will happen to the children or their families if the truth comes out.



Clarissa Vogel was sexually assaulted by her great-grandfather when she was just three years old.


imago pictures



IMAGO / photo library


Difficult to get adult help

Close contact with adults outside the family is often prevented by mostly male offenders. This means that the child has no chance of trusting anyone who can take action.

Even within the family, it is not always easy to find help. Clarissa Vogel captured her grandmother. She learned of her partner’s actions and decided to protect them. She assured her granddaughter that all beloved children do, and asked her to do what her father said. The study from Frankfurt showed that this is not uncommon: in 10 percent of cases, the mothers were complicit.



The head of the girl with brown braids appeared.  (Photo: Imago Images, Imago / Phototech)

Finding a contact person for an actual intervention can be difficult for children. It takes a lot of effort to trust a third person.


imago pictures



IMAGO / photo library


Closed environment ‘family’ difficult to penetrate

The study also shows that it is often particularly difficult to adequately protect children in the family environment. Because even institutions still view family as a “private matter,” as the study’s team of authors explain. In addition, there is still a great reluctance to participate.

Schools and counseling centers should act as contact points for children

In order to reach affected children in all areas, a new coordination center has been set up in Stuttgart: LKSF. It aims to connect all counseling centers against sexual violence in Baden-Württemberg and implement projects at the state level in the field of prevention.

Especially when it is clear that children are isolated, it is important to make it clear to them where they can go. For example, prevention classes at school can help identify and report personal abuse. Martina Hack, who heads the New Coordination Center in Stuttgart, describes this using the example of a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl:

“Only after the ban did the girl really realize that what her father was doing to her was abuse and was really a serious sexual abuse. The father was later sentenced to eight years in prison.”

Kindergarten and school workers must be trained

In day care centers, the concept of protection from violence of any kind is now mandatory and part of the operating permit. Many schools followed suit with similar concepts, but unfortunately not all of them. The educational staff must also be adequately trained for this purpose, says Professor Simone Pülschen from the University of Flensburg. It looks at how teachers can better prepare students for this topic. Because it is not yet a fixed part of training. Quite a few teachers feel overwhelmed – whether when a child tells them about stressful events or when they have their own doubts.



Portrait of a girl and boy standing in front of a kindergarten.  (Photo: Imago Images, Imago / Rolf Boss)

Day care centres, kindergartens and schools can be points of contact for children who have experienced sexual violence. However, in order to handle children properly and take appropriate actions, the staff must be trained.


imago pictures



IMAGO / Rolf Boss


Confidence conversations can be practiced in virtual reality

Together with other researchers, Simone Pülschen has developed ViContact, a program that teachers can use to practice initial discussions with children in virtual scenes if abuse is suspected. This way they learn what questions they can and can’t ask and when they need help themselves.

Addressing the topic over and over in a safe environment can help children talk about sexuality and feelings and show that there are objective areas where you can also say “no,” Bolchin says. According to Martina Hack, offenders can indeed be deterred if the child reacts intuitively and expresses disgust. This makes the child appear less docile.



Little girl extending her hand as a stop sign.  (Photo: IMAGO Images, IMAGO / Panthermedia)

In preventative measures, children learn that it’s okay to say “no.” This makes you less vulnerable to offenders.


imago pictures



IMAGO / Panthermedia


But when the perpetrators come from within your family, as in Clarissa’s case, it can still be very difficult to adequately protect children. This is also shown by the very large number of victims. It is vital that people like Clarissa Vogel tell their story and we understand that this is not an isolated case, but that children are raped in families every day.

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