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"If you are not helped as a child, then you learn to remain silent"

Senta's story is likely to be typical of many young East German victims of abuse.

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"If you are not helped as a child, then you learn to remain silent"

Senta's story is likely to be typical of many young East German victims of abuse. Senta was a talent in her discipline, rhythmic gymnastics. At the age of nine she was spotted and sent to a sports boarding school, at 13 she became a member of the youth national team, later the national team.

She describes the sports boarding school as a “closed system, comparable to an ivory tower”. She only sees her parents every three weeks: "They handed over the upbringing and care for me to the sports boarding school." They weren't there when Senta got caught by a doctor in the training camp who didn't just give her and the other girls painkillers and doping substances, but also performs sexual acts on them.

“I remember our great fear of who would be selected again in the evening and had to go to that doctor alone. Neither of them ever told the others what happened,” says Senta. Only years later does she manage to face her repressed memories and come to terms with what happened. Her conclusion: "If you are not helped as a child, then you learn to remain silent."

Senta's report is one of the 72 eyewitness reports that the Independent Commission on Child Sexual Abuse has reviewed in its most recent case study on abuse in sport. Since 2016, the commission has been calling on people who have experienced sexual violence at home, in school, in the church and in institutions to break their silence. The motto: "Stories that count."

The most recent case study shows that abuse was particularly prevalent in performance and competitive mass sports, less often in leisure and school sports. Almost a fifth of the reports evaluated relate to experiences of violence within the framework of the GDR sports system - an area for which there is hardly any scientific knowledge to date, as the study states.

The peculiarities of this system, with early talent identification and intensive support in sports schools and boarding schools, would have favored attacks. The overriding goal of sporting success often allowed the children to tolerate the experience of violence, said study director Bettina Rulofs from the Cologne Sport University: "The children were defenseless against the violent acts of trainers, doctors and other sports officials."

The positive narrative of sport in particular makes it difficult for those affected to receive attention and help for the injustice and suffering experienced in sport, said Rulofs. For them, sport does not redeem the promise of health, personal development and athletic performance. On the contrary: "They suffered lifelong damage." According to the study, two thirds of those affected were regularly subjected to sexual violence, sometimes over a long period of time - mostly by male trainers, supervisors or teachers in positions of power. In addition to sexual assault and rape, punches, kicks, choking and emotional violence were also reported, Rulofs said.

The report shows that only very few of those affected confided in anyone about their experiences. In addition to threats and intimidation, shame and the feeling of being partly responsible for what happened also played a role. In addition, many feared losing their beloved sport and position in the team or causing damage to the club. "They often regarded their own suffering as the lesser evil and did not want to be responsible for the fact that the departure of the coach, for example, had a negative impact on the training group or the entire club," says the study.

For example, Hatice reports that despite the attacks, she felt grateful and obliged to the perpetrator because he also supported her outside of sport due to her precarious family circumstances. "Well, I was dependent on him," she says. “I was always afraid that he would fly. I've always had the feeling that if it weren't for him, I would have ended up in the gutter."

It is also because of such mechanisms that very few cases of sexual abuse of children have been uncovered and processed, said Heiner Keupp, a member of the processing commission. "We need a right to processing for those affected and an obligation for processing for the institutions." The Ministry of the Interior has committed to creating a "Safe Sport" center that will serve as an independent contact point for those affected. So far, however, there has been no commitment from organized sport to participate in the financing.

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

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