Report: Rampant child abuse at ex-home in Vienna

VIENNA (AP) — Children at a former city-run home in Vienna were rampantly abused, with some of them raped and subjected to other forms of sexual exploitation both by caregivers and outsiders, an Austrian investigative commission said Wednesday.

The commission also documented cases of physical and psychological abuse in a 344-page report summarizing the results of its investigation of claims by former wards of what used to be a home managed by the city of Vienna from 1948 to 1977.

The probe was commissioned in late 2011 after two sisters said they and the other 18 girls in their dormitory were regularly raped by groups of men. The sisters said the abuse began when they were 6 and 8 and ended in their early teens, when the institution was shut.

Other alleged victims subsequently also came forward with testimonies of sexual, physical and psychological mistreatment in the late 1940s and early 1950s at the Schloss Wilhelminenberg home, which is now a hotel in a leafy outlying Vienna district.

Without assigning individual blame, the report concluded that municipal employees in the department overseeing the city’s homes for children were aware of the widespread abuse but neglected to react. Municipal politicians who learned of them in the 1960s also shut their eyes to the problem.

Commission head Barbara Helige told reporters that the findings will be forwarded to the state prosecutors’ office and other investigative agencies. Commission members said it was up to them to determine whether crimes committed in the home fell under statutes of limitations.

The report cites dozens of alleged victims of, or witnesses to, abuse.

“I saw how they dragged a girl onto a bench, with one person forcing her hands back and sitting on her, forcing her legs back and the other one raped her,” one former resident was quoted as saying.

“She screamed and struggled,” the unidentified witness said, describing the victim as aged 11 or 12.

Boys were also reportedly victimized. One former resident said he was regularly molested by a dormitory supervisor at age 14.

Once the home was turned from a coed to an all-girls institution in 1962, all male orderlies were replaced by women but the abuse continued, this time from outsiders, the report said.

Some former residents spoke of being raped and otherwise sexually mishandled by men climbing through windows. Others said their caregivers took them from their dormitory to rooms where men were waiting for them. Several said they were drugged or forced to drink alcohol.

The report also spoke of frequent beatings and other forms of physical abuse that went on for decades until the home was closed.

“Children were dragged by the hair, beaten with objects, were slapped in the face or had to kneel for long periods of time,” if found guilty of misbehavior, it said. Children’s faces were pushed into their food if they didn’t eat properly.

Most of the children came from problem families, prompting disparaging comments about their backgrounds from those taking care of them that sometimes resulted in psychological damage, the report said.

“We should be thankful that we get something to eat and are not gassed like the Jews,” one former resident was quoted as saying she was told. She said she was also told that “we are worthless … little whores and children of alcoholics.”

Since the first allegations surfaced in 2010 of abuse at Schloss Wilhelminenberg, hundreds of former residents there have turned to Weisser Ring, a victims’ organization supported by the city of Vienna. Claims of past abuse in other state or Catholic church-run institutions have also surfaced.

Beyond psychological help, some of the former Schloss Wilhelminenberg children have received financial payouts as high as 35,000 euros — more than $45,000.

The report was based on 217 interviews with 140 former charges of the home, 28 orderlies and 94 other witnesses.

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