Swiss feel betrayal, shock after carer's sex abuse spree

2nd February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Swiss care workers expressed shock and betrayal on Wednesday after police revealed that a therapist admitted to 29 years of sex abuse on at least 114 mainly handicapped youngsters he tended for.

"The sky caved in when we were told about the scale of this case," said Ruedi Schaerer, head of the Nische foundation, which runs one of the care homes where the man worked.

"It's a catastrophe, no one noticed anything about this before," he told the Aargauer Zeitung's website.

Police in the canton of Berne found that the social worker had taken shot photos and videos of some of his acts, in which his victims showed evident suffering despite sometimes being unable to speak because of their disability.

Most of them were young men and women who were mentally or physically disabled, often minors, as well as the children of other staff in care homes, authorities said as they made the terrifying case public on Tuesday.

The youngest was just one year old.

"These are severely handicapped people who can't express themselves, that's why some families, relatives or legal guardians of these victims only discovered the facts yesterday," Berne police spokeswoman Florie Marion told AFP on Wednesday.

"He was a social worker, a carer, and he took advantage of intimate moments when he was alone with the victims, at the pool, to carry out these acts."

The Swiss association of institutions for handicapped people (INSOS) said it was "deeply dismayed", after prosecutors accused the 54-year-old of committing abuse in eight institutions in Switzerland and one in southern Germany.

INSOS director Ivo Loetscher-Zwinggi called for a thorough investigation and support for victims, their families as well as staff in the homes.

"Their confidence has been so deeply betrayed by the accused," the association added.

Investigators are not ruling out more cases after the man admitted to 114 instances of sex abuse and eight more "attempts" during questioning over the past 10 months.

A shaken looking Peter Niederhaeuser, head of a foundation running one of the homes near Berne where the man worked, said that 20 children were thought to have been abused there.

Gabriele Berger, head of the special investigations unit at Berne police, told Swiss television SFTV that 18 videos and photographs taken by the man showed abuse, which often took place while he was on night duty.

"It's obvious how the victims show their repulsion, how they try to push the accused away, show pain or burst into tears," she said.

Berger described the man as a self-avowed "paedophile" who had shown a sense of relief at being caught last year when two handicapped youngsters told their parents about sexual contact with a member of staff in their care home.

Nonetheless, only 33 cases can be prosecuted since the rest are prescribed by law.

Detectives are examining how the man, who was not named, worked in so many care homes. They also reopened an investigation in 2003 in which he was a suspect.

© 2011 AFP

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