Germany | Sexual abuse in the classroom: Experts criticize the lack of processing in schools

Anna (name changed) was 14 years old when her German teacher, 36 years older, became interested in her. First he brought her home, then they watched football together. “When I was 15,” says Anna, “that’s when it started physically.”

At first she didn’t have the feeling that she was being abused, the man was an adult and experienced life, that was all right. That’s what Anna thought. And the child of divorce “felt comfortable and secure with the man. He was a substitute father for me.”

But the father surrogate soon began to yell, annoyed that at times she would rather go to her girlfriends and tennis lessons than him. It didn’t bother him that he had a partner of the same age. At the age of 17, Anna slowly broke away from him, at the age of 18 she made the final break.

It was only during psychotherapy that Anna understood the extent of the deeds

Only afterwards did Anna realize what she had experienced. In psychotherapy, she became aware of the extent of the deeds. Now Anna – who is now the mother of a boy who is not yet of school age – has a big wish: “I want society to become more aware of the issue of abuse and for everyone to realize that abuse can take place in every school.”

Anna told her story on Wednesday in Berlin at an event organized by the “Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children”. Subject of the hearing: “Sexual abuse of children and school.” Not looking the other way, dealing with crimes, naming crime scenes, identifying strategies for covering up crimes, finding solutions to avoid such cases, these are the main concerns of the investigation commission.

And Anna’s wish coincides with the central objective of the commission: Commission member Brigitte Tilmann says: “Review prevents the cover-up from continuing. Only if you ask how it is that actions are not recognized or suppressed can you reduce the risk that there will be more actions.”

Sexual abuse in the classroom

The commission evaluated the reports of 160 victims who were abused in state schools. Crime scenes were libraries, school administration offices, medical rooms, but in some cases even classrooms while classes were taking place. The perpetrators are mostly teachers, less often headmasters or other students. In addition to Anna, other affected people also told their stories on Wednesday.

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A change in mentality is urgently needed in schools, says commission member Brigitte Tilmann. Schools are too often concerned about their good reputation and therefore either ignore actions or are very reluctant to come to terms with them. “As a school, you don’t want to know anything, you usually only start thinking about it when those affected put enormous pressure on you.”

Tilmann cites the Odenwald School as a negative example. In 2010 she was actively involved in dealing with the cases of abuse at the reform school. “There were glossy brochures showing the school of the future. But they wanted to leave the dark past behind.” But this approach had “fatal consequences for the school”. The school’s reputation was finally ruined.

Teacher probably transferred because she denounced abuse

At the event, a teacher said that she – new to her school – had noticed sexualized behavior in a non-educational employee and documented it in writing. The behavior had been known to the college for years, but without any reactions. She contacted the school administration, but in response she subsequently felt bullied.

Ultimately, she was transferred to another school because she had disturbed the school peace. The employee concerned had come to another primary school, but that was not an admission of guilt. “Brave teachers are not welcomed with open arms at a school,” said the teacher.

According to a study from 2018, a comprehensive protection concept is only implemented in 13 percent of all schools in Germany. The former Federal Minister for Family Affairs Christine Bergmann said on Wednesday: “The realization that a school can be a crime scene has not yet prevailed everywhere in state schools.”

By Editor

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