The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ opened the photo exhibition “SHAME – European Stories” at the Council of Europe on Monday. The exhibition by the Guido Fluri Foundation portrays victims of child abuse from 20 European countries. On Tuesday, a hearing on the topic of child abuse in Europe will take place. The background is a motion submitted by the Swiss delegation of the Council of Europe. This motion demands a reappraisal of the abuse cases and forms of reparation in the member states of the Council of Europe.
The abuse in children’s homes in southeastern Europe, the children torn from their families in the colonies, the clerical abuses: every European country has its own history of abuse. Tens of thousands of victims of exploitation, mistreatment and sexual abuse live in the middle of Europe. As a result of the abuse, they still have severe physical and psychological problems today, live in old-age poverty or social isolation, without specific support from the state and society. “The victims still suffer massively today from the abuse they had to experience as children. Nevertheless, most countries have so far failed to acknowledge, come to terms with or make reparations. This is not compatible with European values,” says Guido Fluri. Together with survivor groups from all over Europe he launched the Justice Initiative, which aims to coming to terms with abuse in Europe.
In order to show the dimension of the injustice and suffering, witnesses from all over Europe have been portrayed in recent months. The photo exhibition “SHAME – European Stories”, which opened today at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, now gives these victims of abuse a face and a voice for the first time. The photos were taken by the award-winnig photografer Simone Padovani.
Secretary General of the Council of Europe: children suffer in silence
In her contribution, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, praised the Guido Fluri Foundation for giving a voice to survivors of child sexual abuse through the “Justice Initiative”. “I am pleased that the Council of Europe was able to host the exhibition “Shame – European Stories” at our headquarters in Strasbourg, and I hope that it will serve as an incentive for further action,” she said. «Sexual violence against children is not only abhorrent, but also the source of deep, profound and lasting harm. It happens in every country, to children from all backgrounds, and can take place just once, or repeatedly, anywhere from the child’s own home or school to their local sports club. Many of these children suffer in silence, afraid of the consequences of telling the truth about what is happening to them or of not being believed.”
Swiss motion wants Europe-wide reappraisal
In Switzerland, too, the cases of abuse were tabooed for decades. In state and church institutions and private homes, thousands of children were systematically humiliated, chastised, and sometimes sexually abused. Today, the history of the abuses is being comprehensively reviewed countrywide. There are memorials throughout the country, the subject is taught in schools, books are written, and films are produced. The dark chapter of Swiss social history is now part of Swiss history.
A similar path for Europe is now to be paved by the motion of National Councilor Pierre-Alain Fridez, the previous president of the Swiss delegation to the Council of Europe. According to this motion, the Council of Europe and the member states should ensure an independent scientific investigation of the violation of children’s rights in the individual countries. The Council of Europe and member states should ensure official recognition of children who have suffered from any kind of sexual, physical and psychological violence. Likewise, the motion calls for victims to receive some form of reparation and for existing laws in member states to be geared toward protecting all children from abuse and mistreatment.
Hearing of survivors at the Council of Europe
On Tuesday, the hearing will take place in the relevant commission in the Council of Europe. The aforementioned motion “Child abuse in Europe: reappraisal, compensation and prevention” will be discussed. During the hearing, victims will have the opportunity to testify before the assembled commission and to draw attention to the urgency of their concerns. Guido Fluri, initiator of the “Justice Initiative”, will also address the members of parliament. The goal is to achieve a clear majority for the reappraisal, which will later be voted on in the assembly.