Child Sexual Abuse Trial: The Horrors of Bergisch Gladbach in Germany | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW
It’s an ordinary house: two stories, a flat roof, a well-kept front garden, not far from Cologne. It has the exterior facade of a normal life. “The neighbors described them as a nice and normal family,” recalls policewoman Lisa Wagner, who participated in the search of Jörg L.’s house on the morning of October 21, 2019, which caused the facade to collapse.
Child pornography films and images found at the 43-year-old man’s home by police have led to the largest investigation into organized sexual abuse of children in Federal German history. Jörg L., a cook and hotel manager, is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting his daughter, born in 2017. The prosecution said he filmed and recorded most of the abuse and shared it in focus groups. The abuse allegedly started when the child was less than 3 months old.
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More than 300 agents involved in the investigation
The Cologne police have formed a special working group. At present, 130 investigators are still sifting through terabytes of video and image files, although there have been times when many more officers were involved, who had to watch scenes of extreme sexual violence against children. .
Lisa Wagner went through hours of traumatic material trying to end the abuse
“I think pictures and videos like these are always going to leave their mark on those who watch them – even experienced investigators,” Constable Wagner says of the “terrible things” she has seen.
Three investigators from the task force were put on sick leave because the videos had such a traumatic effect on them. Wagner, a mother herself, says her motivation to dive back into these depths every day comes from the chance “to identify these perpetrators, to bring the children out of these families and to end this abuse.”
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The investigators obtained the withdrawal of about fifty children from the custody of their attackers, including a 3-month-old baby. The list of suspects identified by investigators now numbers 87, according to Cologne State Prosecutor Markus Hartmann, head of the North Rhine-Westphalia Cybercrime Investigation Division since 2016. His remit covers ‘cybercrime’ of exceptional importance ”, including the child sex abuse scandal in Bergisch Gladbach.
Huge web of abuse
Each of those 87 cases gave new clues that lead to new suspects. Hartmann told DW that “these are not individual cases: behind every case of abuse lies a network of communication structures which, according to our current assessment, help, encourage and encourage abuse.”
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Prosecutor Markus Hartmann says behind every abuse case lies a network of communication structures
The full scale of the network has not yet become clear. At the end of June, North Rhine-Westphalia Justice Minister Peter Biesenbach said investigators had found the pseudonyms and stories of more than 30,000 potential perpetrators. Biesenbach spoke of a “new dimension of crime” which had made him “sick to the stomach”.
Investigators say there were focus groups with up to 1,800 members. Hartmann explained that “by communicating with each other in chats, those involved encouraged each other to believe that child sexual abuse was a socially accepted sexual preference.”
Hartmann said there was a “considerable level of distorted perception” and knowledge that people were committing crimes was tempered by communication with like-minded people. “The members of the groups continually reassure themselves that what they are doing is really quite normal, to the point that they imagine that they are committing these crimes on a consensual basis with children actively involved.”
Hartmann says the investigation combined traditional methods with sorting digital evidence, leading investigators to communication networks across the country – and abroad. But there are many obstacles to international cooperation in the fight against crime. Different political and legal systems and other formalities can make it difficult to pursue a common goal.
The top priority in the Bergisch Gladbach abuse case is to save children from abuse – and time is running out. Hartmann says this is reflected in the work of investigators: “We have had cases in Europe where we were able to coordinate operations with our respective international partners within hours.”
It is certainly also a European problem. On July 24, the European Commission released a new strategy to combat child sexual abuse, citing a European Council assessment that estimated that one in five children experience some form of sexual abuse.
Read more: ‘Elysium’ – where over 111,000 users have traded child pornography.
The counted and the uncounted
According to police statistics, there were 15,936 cases of sexual violence against minors in 2019, as well as 12,262 cases of child pornography. In addition, there have been around 3,000 cases of cyberbullying, in which adults manipulate children on the Internet with the aim of committing sex crimes.
The actual figure is probably much higher.
In January 2019, Germany saw the trial in the child abuse case on the darknet “Elysium”
Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig has been the German government commissioner for sexual abuse issues for almost nine years. He has warned of the pandemic nature of sexual abuse for years and demanded that tackling this problem become a national priority. He told DW: “The authors come from all walks of life. The problem of sexual violence against children, organized by both analog and digital channels, is a problem for society as a whole.
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Rörig welcomes the new attention given to the matter by the revelations of Bergisch Gladbach and other affairs in Germany. But he regrets that the debate, according to him, “unfortunately focuses too much on the sentence, on the question of a tougher sentence. The threat of tougher sentences alone will not be enough to deal with the gigantic phenomenon of child sexual abuse and sexual violence. on the Internet. It is important that investigators have more effective tools to increase the chances that perpetrators will be discovered.
Step by step
For the Cologne prosecutor Hartmann, each identified culprit is a success, “because it also makes it possible to identify a victim and to provide assistance”.
Help came late for Jörg L.’s daughter. In total, state prosecutors charged Jörg L. with 79 crimes. He allegedly committed some of the crimes together with a chat partner from Kamp-Lintfort, a former Bundeswehr soldier, and brought his daughter and son-in-law to meetings for preordained abuse.
At the end of May, Kamp-Lintfort, 27, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for serious sexual abuse. Abuse Commissioner Rörig said the perpetrators “have completely lost their moral compass and completely lost sight of what we would normally consider basic human principles. So, in addition to the penalties they should receive, they also need to ‘therapy and help “.
Jörg L. faces up to 15 years in prison.
Editor’s Note: DW follows the German Press Code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us not to reveal full names in such cases.
This article was originally published on August 10.