"It's never okay." Child sexual abuse and its consequences

As a child, Michael Reh was sexually abused by his aunt. In this interview, he talks about his experiences, the consequences and the role that medical care plays in the process.

Abusers are often the closest relatives

As a child, Michael Reh was sexually abused by his aunt over a period of eight years. In this interview, he talks about what he experienced, the consequences and the role that medical care plays in the process.

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Michael Reh was sexually abused by his aunt as a child. The abuse began when he was four and a half years old and continued over a period of eight years - a situation unimaginable for most people in Dortmund in the 1960s and 1970s. The child has no one to turn to. When Michael Reh is finally able to talk about what he has experienced, he is already an adult. Within the family, his reports are met with hostility and rejection. His father, above all, accuses him of lying.

Shame and fear constantly determine the daily lives of survivors for years.

Even today, women are hardly considered as abusers. Some still doubt that a woman is capable of sexual abuse at all. This idea turns common gender attributions upside down. Yet female abusers are not isolated cases. However, the number of unreported cases is enormous because survivors never come forward out of shame, fear and also because the abuser is often a close relative.

As a result, there are hardly any scientific findings on the topic. The study "Child Sexual Abuse by Women" (in German: Sexueller Kindesmissbrauch durch Frauen")  under the direction of Prof. Peer Briken has been running at the Institute for Sexual Research and Forensic Psychiatry at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital (in German: Universit√§tsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, or UKE) since January 2020 and will continue until the end of June this year. In an anonymous online survey, survivors were asked about their experiences.

Warning: The video contains graphic descriptions that can be disturbing or triggering to some viewers.

In this interview with Ester Zakirova, Michael Reh also talks about the medical care, which he found encroaching and shameful, and about the consequences of traumatisation, which he still has to deal with today. He pleads for more openness in dealing with the taboo subject and appeals especially to medical staff to be sensitive to possible symptoms and to create an environment for children in which they can express themselves in confidence.  

Michael Reh is now a successful photographer and author who tells his story in the novel Katharsis. Drama einer Familie (2020, Acabus Verlag. Only available in German. English translation: "Catharsis. Drama of a family").

Editor's Note:
If you or anyone you know is or have been a victim of abuse, we encourage you to reach out for immediate support. You can access some multi-language resources on what to do by visiting pages like the Rape Crisis Network Europe, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, or UNICEF