“And So I Search for My Lost Life. Where Did It Go?”: Sexuality, Abuse, and Violence in Children's Homes 1950-1980

By Andrea Jesser.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 29, 2015 $US5.00

This paper presents the results of a biographical interview project about sexuality, abuse and violence in children's homes between 1950 and 1980 in Austria, and which has been carried out between 2010 and 2012 by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Sieder and Dr. Andrea Smioski. Only in recent years has it become possible to address the crimes committed “in the name of education and welfare” in state-run children’s homes, which took custody of neglected children from deprived or lone-mother families. Sexual abuse, violent punishment, and psychological degradation served as instruments of “total education” (Goffman). Contrary to the official purpose of home education, people have been left weakened and broken for life. For the first time now, former victims talk about their childhood in these state-run homes. They tell of imprisonment, censorship of letters, prohibition of contact with their families, physical pain, sexual and sexualised violence, psychological injuries and death fears, coercion to hard labour, etc. Many lost self-esteem and confidence; they are still plagued by loneliness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Because their parents were unable to, professional educators took over their education. However, one out of two educators had no formal training. And what do we know about the academic and professional staff employed in the relevant institutions? Lawyers and psychologists of the Youth Welfare Service, psychiatrists, curative educators, judges, home directors, social workers, and care takers all sent children to these homes, without seriously pursuing the rumours of violence. This paper aims at documenting and explaining the emergence and the typical course of physical and mental abuse. The subjects of investigation are, on a biographical level, the coping strategies of former wards, and on an institutional level, the structures that caused and sustained such violent situations.

Keywords: Children, Young People, Violence, Home Education, Total Education, Total Institution, Biographical Research

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, June 2015, pp.22-29. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 29, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 363.221KB)).

Dr. Andrea Jesser

Researcher, Institute of Sociology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria