You grow up hating yourself': why child abuse survivors keep – and break – their silence

Why didn’t my child tell me?

Parents often cannot understand why their daughter / son has not entrusted them to them after uncovering sexual abuse. Many were convinced that their child had absolute trust in them and would come to them with all sorts of small and large concerns. In the past, they have often said to their children again and again: “You can always come to me – no matter what is or what you did.”
If mothers and fathers are the “last persons” to learn about the abuse, they often feel that they have failed as parents. They also often feel deeply hurt – especially when the child has trusted another person. In this situation, some parents bitterly reproach the victims and regard their silence as a serious breach of trust.

Information about the perpetrators’ strategies helps affected parents correctly assess children’s behavior and recognize that victim silence is almost always a sign of children’s attachment to their mothers and fathers. In most cases, silence on the part of the child is not an expression of a broken trust relationship.

There are various reasons why mothers and fathers are often the people to whom the victims give the least clues and who later learn about the abuse from people who are less close to the child.

Here are the reasons

Many perpetrators make targeted threats to ensure the child’s silence towards the parents. If you tell your parents, they don’t love you anymore … then your dad will kill me and then he’ll go to prison … then your mom will get sick … I’ll do the same with your little sister .. .

Affected girls and boys feel how much knowledge of sexual abuse would strain their parents. You don’t want to inflict this suffering on them. They don’t want their mothers and fathers to get sick, sad or angry, and doubt themselves.

Quite a few victims are deliberately involved by offenders in acts that are punishable by law or that have been prohibited by their parents.

Many perpetrators systematically ensure that parents have a good impression of them. The children do not trust their mothers and fathers because they fear that their mothers and fathers will not believe them.

Victims of child abuse in the GDR break their silence

After archive studies in 2019, the new investigation now included the personal fates of more than 100 men and women who experienced sexual assault as children and adolescents in the GDR, the Independent Commission for Sexual Abuse said in New York on Wednesday. Researchers call the results shocking.

For the new study, those affected have told or written their stories of suffering – often after decades of silence. Some of them are in their mid-70s today and have never spoken about it before. This was particularly true for the 1970s and 1980s.

The investigation is not representative, but throws further highlights on a dark chapter of the GDR. Corinna Thalheim, CEO of the “Abuse in GDR Homes” initiative, reveals her story openly. In the mid-1980s, she skipped school at 16. “That’s why I came to the Lutherstadt Wittenberg youth center,” she says. After three attempts to escape, she came to the infamous Torgau youth workshop. “There was so much organized violence and abuse there that it ruined my life,” she says today.

According to the case study, sexual violence occurred in GDR families even more frequently than in homes – in all classes and professions. According to the investigation, the perpetrators included fathers, mothers, grandfathers, brothers and cousins ​​- up to group rapes.

To date, around 20 people have reported organized abuse in which children were sold for sexual services or exchanged for goods like other goods.

It was depressing for many victims of abuse in the GDR that hardly anyone listened to them even after the Wall came down. “Society still had the image of petty criminals and criminals in youth workshops,” says Thalheim.

In order to act externally as a healthy socialist family, there were often internal orders to remain silent and denial of the crimes. Hardly anyone could have entrusted themselves to victims, and there were rarely any therapy offers. “For many victims, crowding became a survival strategy,” she sums up.

Since the home child fund was closed for new applications in 2014, there has been no financial aid for therapies at the federal level to date. Nothing is provided for in the new victim protection law either. Thalheim’s initiative now calls for its own aid fund from the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs.
For researcher Beate Mitzscherlich, professor of health research at the West Saxon University of Applied Sciences in Zwickau, the descriptions of former home children from Torgau are not isolated cases. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she says.

“Sexual abuse was a regular element in the GDR home education.” In addition to repressive and hierarchical methods of education, the “moral overweight” in the GDR favored attacks. Even if a home child spoke about abuse, a common answer had been: “You’re lying anyway.”

Victims of abuse in the GDR have so far fallen through all grids, the former Federal Minister for Family Affairs Christine Bergmann also reports. “The confidential hearings mean recognition for those affected,” she adds. “It is now believed there that was not believed for decades.”