Sexual abuse of children in Europe

For understandable reasons focus will often be on events close to home and the consideration of sexual abuse of children is no exception in that regard. Sadly however the abuse of children, whether many years ago or current, and the challenges in responding to the same are worldwide concerns.. Some recent instances of events in Europe are evidence of that.

Last week the Danish Prime Minister apologised for the abuse of children in state run homes between 1945-1976. The apology follows the Prime Minister’s appointment in June. An official inquiry, into multiple reports of abuse including sexual abuse, beatings and children being drugged, published a report in 2011 which identified the abuse but until now the Danish Government had not publicly apologised. For many victims recognition was the main aim and they have made a point of not asking for compensation. However some victims now believe a commission and a fund should be set up to assess compensation.

The Danish PM’s apology follows that last month of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who made another apology on behalf of the Irish state to survivors of sexual abuse in day schools.

In Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, a recent documentary highlighted that nearly 1 in 3 have suffered abuse in their childhood, and efforts to combat it have been hampered by a persistent conspiracy of silence. The Government has put in place a strategy with the aim of eradicating the sexual abuse of children by 2022. This includes information campaigns, particularly aimed at raising awareness on children’s rights and respect of physical integrity, as well as a promise to provide care for all those affected.

In Poland the release last month of a film entitled ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ has resulted in an unprecedented challenge to the Polish Roman Catholic Church. The Have No Fear Foundation is drafting a citizens’ bill to enable victims to file historical claims against priests and to allow for the creation of an independent truth and compensation commission, modelled on those set up in Ireland, Germany and Australia. Poland’s government is creating a commission which will investigate professions such as child-care and teaching as well as the Church.

Earlier this year a similar film was released in France. ‘By the Grace of God’ dealt with child sexual abuse by Catholic priests from the perspective of the devastating effect on the family lives of a group of men in their 40s who were sexually abused as boy scouts by a priest in Lyon in the 1980s and 1990s. He fought to bring a case to court.

In Germany a recent criminal trial saw three men accused of 450 instances of the sexual abuse of 40 children aged between 3 -14 in the period 1998-2018 at a campsite in North Rhine-Westphalia. Two of the accused pleaded guilty at the start of the trial.

Meanwhile the Netherlands hosted almost half of the internet sites featuring images and videos of the sexual abuse of children. According to the Internet Watch Foundation it found 48,900 web addresses containing child abuse with links to the Netherlands, or 46% of the total addresses which it had monitored. Challenges across jurisdictions linked to child sexual abuse and the internet were also seen in Norway and Bulgaria. In 2014, Norwegian law enforcement authorities seized millions of encrypted files depicting sexual abuse of children. The seized material contained information that led Norwegian police to believe that two Norwegian suspects ran an orphanage in Bulgaria. Over a number of years Eurojust and Europol worked with the authorities in Norway and Bulgaria to decrypt the files leading to the arrest earlier this year of the suspects and the protection of further children from abuse.


Paula Jefferson, Partner and Head of Abuse & Neglect Practice


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