Portrait Photo Lisa Fahrig

Lisa Fahrig
Member of the Council of Victims and Survivors

Society must take a look behind the façade

Sexualised violence occurs in all social strata – including those where no one suspects it. Do we need to look more closely? "Yes", says Lisa Fahrig. As a member of the Council of Victims and Survivors and a doctor I want to play a part in this.

About Lisa Fahrig
Lisa Fahrig lives in Switzerland where she works as a junior doctor. She has been a committed member of the Council of Victims and Survivors of the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues since 2020.

You have been a committed member of the Council of Victims and Survivors of the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues since 2020. What are you looking to achieve through this Ms Fahrig?

I think it's important that society learns to talk about this completely taboo subject. For me personally, it is very important that people understand that sexualised violence not only occurs in socially deprived families. It happens everywhere – including in families of judges, doctors and pastors. When I was a child, I experienced sexualised and psychological violence in the family, and my father was a doctor. To the outside world, we probably appeared like a normal, middle-class family. No one would have suspected that violence was taking place here. Such families form a real protective wall for the perpetrators. This makes it almost impossible for those affected by violence to get help.

How and when did you manage to get help?

Like many victims and survivors, I suppressed my memories for a long time. I thought: "That wasn't really that bad." I did not realise that I had been sexually abused until I was about 18. My friends helped me a lot with coming to terms with it. They believed me, and they gave me the space to talk about it. I became aware of the abuse while talking to a friend and also through my physical symptoms. For example, my stomach hurt when confronted with topics related to sexualised violence. It reminded that I had stomach pains as a child when I was with the perpetrators. When I became aware of all this, I was incredibly distressed and depressed. It's what led me to seek therapeutic help.

And what happened then?

At first, the therapists did not even identify the real problem. Finally, a friend encouraged me to go to a trauma clinic. I thought I would be able to come to terms with it all in six weeks. Then I realised I needed more time and decided to take a semester off. In the clinic, I was able to put my experience into words for the first time. Body therapy in particular helped me become aware of the traumas and process them.

What would have helped you when you were a child? What would you have liked the people around you to do?

I would have liked the people around me to ask me how I am and if everything is okay at home. There were so many times in my life when it was clear that something was wrong with me. As an adolescent, I tried to numb my distress and frustration with alcohol. When I was only just 13, I was admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning. They told me: "Your father is a professional. So there is no need to speak to a psychologist." But what would have helped me most of all was if my mother had found the courage to leave my father with us children. But unfortunately, she was caught up in her own story.

I would have liked the people around me to ask me how I am and if everything is okay at home. There were so many times in my life when it was clear that something was wrong with me.

Do we as a society need to learn to look more closely when there is a suspicion?

For the people around you it is extremely difficult to recognise sexual abuse. There are so many possible symptoms and conspicuous behaviours, but there are also children who are entirely well-adjusted and show no symptoms at all. Society must open its eyes to the broad range of warning signals. People should have the courage to ask their neighbours if everything is okay. People should think beyond their own four walls, and ring the door bell when they hear screams above them. They must realise that excessive ambition and conscientiousness can be as much a sign of sexualised violence as reclusiveness or sadness. People often have a gut feeling, which they should trust.

You are now a doctor. What does it mean to you to help other people?

At the beginning of my career in particular I found it easier to help others than to look after myself. It meant I didn't have to think about and focus on myself. Fortunately, things are different now. Today I find it fulfilling to see the person behind the patient in all their facets. I want to be a doctor who does not just combat symptoms, but sees and treats people as a whole.

What role can medicine play in protecting individuals affected by sexualised violence?

Medical facilities such as doctor's surgeries, outpatient clinics and hospitals can serve as a shelter. Hospitals or psychiatric clinics can admit people as inpatients to protect them from their environment and to find better follow-up solutions. Close contact with my patients enables me to pick up on one or two warning signs and look behind the façade. But everyday life at the clinic is hectic and it's difficult to interpret these signs correctly. When the signs are obvious, doctors should get child welfare officers involved. The medical child protection hotline (Medizinische Kinderschutzhotline) is also a good first point of contact. Unfortunately, the healthcare sector can also be a risk area.

In what way?

Individuals have a lot of power in the healthcare system. Society trusts them. People don't see that sexualised violence can also happen in this context – even though there are many examples of abuse of power. That's why we need well thought-out protection concepts in medicine and psychotherapy.

What gives you courage?

My work in the Council of Victims and Survivors and my contact with other victims and survivors give me courage. They are all wonderful people with so much courage and love – despite everything that has happened to them. It seems to me that proactively fighting against sexualised violence helps us leave our helplessness behind. The fact that I can turn my bad experiences into something positive really motivates me.

Stories that inspire courage

Interview | Cyber grooming

I want to give sexualised violence and cyber grooming more visibility. I want to show what can happen and how quickly. I do this mainly for the people who have not managed to get away and whose soul is crushed.

Jasmin Scholl

Survivor

To the Interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Jasmin Scholl

Interview | Therapy

Being sexually abused by a woman was extremely damaging to my masculinity. I felt very conflicted for many years. It was really tough for me. It took me a long time to reconcile these two sides.

Nicolas Haaf

Member of the Council of Victims and Survivors

To the interview

Interview | Counselling

Such a sensitive and personal topic always needs courage. But I do believe that making a call helps. It is a first step, a first "mustering up the courage". And that alone often makes all subsequent steps much easier.

Tanja von Bodelschwingh

Counsellor at the Sexual Abuse Help Line

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Tanja von Bodelschwingh

Interview | Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse

We want to learn from these stories. That is the central element of coming to terms with what happened: Looking back should form the basis of learning for the sake of today and for the future.

Barbara Kavemann

Member of the Independent Commission for Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Barbara Kavemann

Interview | Self-help

In our self-help group, men can show their weaknesses and are not laughed at, but are respected. That alone is an experience: I don't have to play the tough guy, I can be seen to be vulnerable.

Max Ciolek

Member of the Council of Victims and Survivors

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Max Ciolek

Interview | Law

The developments I observe in many of the victims and survivors are very encouraging and motivating. Often they can find their old self again during this long process.

Petra Ladenburger
Lawyer

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Petra Ladenburger

Interview | People with disabilities

In acute crisis situations in particular, it greatly helps to seek advice from outside and not just stay in your own circle. We look at everything from an independent viewpoint and can help people view the situation neutrally.

Pia Witthöft

Head of the "Mutstelle" Counselling Centre

To the interview
[Translate to Englisch:] Porträtfoto Pia Witthöft

Give us a call – even if you're unsure

Talk to the advisors of the Sexual Abuse Help Line. Your call is anonymous and free of charge.

0800 22 55 530

Telephone hours:

Mon, Wed, Fri: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tues, Thurs: 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Send us a message

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The Sexual Abuse Help Line also offers advice by email. By registering, the advice service remains confidential.