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Switzerland reels after huge sex abuse scandal

James Savage · 4 Feb 2011, 13:00

Published: 04 Feb 2011 13:00 GMT+01:00

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Care workers expressed shock and betrayal on Wednesday as Switzerland was left reeling by the country's biggest sex abuse scandal ever, involving abuse of at least 114 mainly handicapped youngsters.

Care workers expressed shock and betrayal on Wednesday as Switzerland was left reeling by the country's biggest sex abuse scandal ever, involving abuse of at least 114 mainly handicapped youngsters.

Police in canton Berne revealed earlier that a 54 year-old therapist had admitted to 29 years of sex abuse on mainly handicapped children or young men and women he tended for in nine care homes.


"It is the biggest sex abuse affair that Switzerland has ever known," Florie Marion, a spokeswoman for Berne police, told AFP.


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

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

One of the care homes was in Germany. The public prosecutor for the central Berne-Mittelland region asked Germany for assistance in the investigation.

Police found 18 photos and videos taken by the man, a Swiss citizen who was not named, in which his victims showed evident suffering despite sometimes being unable to speak because of their disability.

"It's obvious how the victims show their repulsion, how they try to push the accused away, show pain or burst into tears," Gabriele Berger, head of the special investigations unit at Berne police, told Swiss television SFTV.

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 harrowing 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," Marion said.

"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".

It called for a thorough investigation, saying confidence of the families as well as other care staff "has been so deeply betrayed by the accused."

Story continues below…

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.

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

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.com)

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