How can we better protect children? – SWR knowledge

One in five children may be affected by sexual violence. Authors often come from their own families.















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Sexual violence against children and young people is widespread and is still a major taboo in society. It is estimated that every fifth child has experienced sexual violence. This is shown by a current dark field study by Mannheim.

Many authors come from their own families. But it is precisely in this isolated environment that it is difficult to protect children.

The perpetrators manipulate their victims for their own protection

A current study by the University of Frankfurt shows that almost every second perpetrator comes from family: names of fathers, stepfathers, grandparents, uncles, brothers. These are often protected by family members, not least by the victim herself, as Clarissa Vogel describes from her experience:

“Just the fact that the author came from my family gave me the feeling that I did not want to betray the family. And he was the person who cared about me. I was also dependent on him. “

For ten years she had to endure the sexual assault of her stepfather. Martina Huck explains that family perpetrators often brutally exploit closeness to the child, his addiction, and his solidarity. As a therapist and counselor, she herself cared for victims of sexual violence for many years. The perpetrators often silence the victim with threats that something bad will happen to their children or families if the truth comes out.



Clarissa Vogel was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was only three years old.


imago images



IMAGO / photo library


Adult help is hard to get

Closer contact with adults outside the family is often deliberately prevented by predominantly male perpetrators. This means that the child has no opportunity to trust anyone who can take action.

Even within the family, help is not always easy to find. Clarissa Vogel has trusted her grandmother. She knew about her partner’s actions and decided to defend them. She assured her granddaughter that all the beautiful children do this and told her to do what her stepfather said. This is not uncommon, the study from Frankfurt shows: In 10 percent of cases, mothers were cooperative.



The back of a girl's head with brown braids.  (Photo: imago images, IMAGO / phototek)

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


imago images



IMAGO / photo library


The closed “Family” environment is difficult to penetrate

The study also shows that it is often particularly difficult to properly protect children in the family environment. Because even the institutions still see the family as a “private matter”, explains the team of study authors. In addition, there is still a great reluctance to get involved.

Schools and counseling centers should serve as contact points for children

To reach the affected children across the board, a new coordination center was set up in Stuttgart: LKSF. It aims to network all counseling centers against sexual violence in Baden-Württemberg and implement nationwide prevention projects.

Especially when children are visibly isolated, it is important to tell them where they can go. For example, prevention classes at school can help identify and report abuse. Martina Huck, who runs the new coordination center in Stuttgart, describes this using the example of a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl:

“It was only after prevention that the girl really realized that what her father was doing to her was abuse and it really was gross sexual abuse. The father was later sentenced to eight years in prison.”

Kindergarten and school staff should be trained

In kindergartens, a protective concept against violence of any kind is already mandatory and part of the operating license. Many schools have followed suit with similar concepts, but unfortunately not all. The pedagogical staff should be sufficiently trained for this, says Professor Simone Pülschen from the University of Flensburg. She is researching how teacher students can best prepare for this topic. Because it is not yet a fixed part of the training. Many teachers feel overwhelmed – like when a child tells them about stressful events and when they have their doubts.



The stick figures of a girl and a boy stand in front of a garden.  (Photo: imago images, IMAGO / Rolf Poss)

Day care centers, kindergartens and schools can be contact points for children who have experienced sexual violence. However, in order to treat children properly and take appropriate action, staff must be trained.


imago images



IMAGO / Rolf Poss


Confidence conversations can be repeated 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 can and cannot be asked and when they need help.

Taking the topic consistently in a safe environment can help children talk about sexuality and feelings and show them that there are areas where you can even say ‘no’, says Pülschen. According to Martina Huck, perpetrators can already be deterred if the child reacts intuitively and expresses disgust. This makes the child look less confident.



The young girl extends her hand as a stop signal.  (Photo: imago images, IMAGO / Panthermedia)

In preventative measures, children learn that it is okay to say ‘no’. This makes you less vulnerable to authors.


imago images



IMAGO / Panthermedia


But when perpetrators come from within your family, as in the case of Clarissa, it is still extremely difficult to protect children adequately. This is shown by the extremely high number of victims. It is even more important that people like Clarissa Vogel tell their story and we understand that this is not an isolated case, but that children in the family are raped every day.

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