From Child’s Abuse to the Dark Web: Germans Recoil at a Mother’s Role

Nikola Novak, a public prosecutor, addressing journalists in Freiburg, Germany, after a couple was found guilty of more than 40 charges, including rape, forced prostitution, distribution of child pornography and child endangerment.

BERLIN — The case would have stoked public outrage if the mother had known her young son was being raped and had done nothing to stop it.

But when Germans heard that she and her boyfriend had raped the boy themselves and served him up to pedophiles on the dark web, the fury only grew.

The mother and her companion — identified only as Berrin T., 48, and Christian L., 39, in keeping with German privacy laws — were convicted on Tuesday of sexually abusing her son over the course of two years, beginning when he was about 7. The abuse included inappropriate touching, rape and making videos that were placed as advertisements on the dark web for pedophiles — among them a German soldier — who paid the couple thousands of dollars to abuse the boy.

For many Germans, the most horrific part of a horrific case was the woman’s complicity, which violated deeply held assumptions about motherhood and contradicted the common image of sexual predators as male. But the case also shocked the country for the severity of the abuse and the failure of authorities to protect the child, despite repeated opportunities for intervention.

Interest groups and politicians called for an investigation and for better training of social workers and judges in recognizing potential sexual abuse of children. Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, Germany’s independent commissioner for questions pertaining to sexual abuse of children, called for an inquiry to determine what signals may have been missed.

“There were obviously structural problems in cooperation between the courts and authorities that must now be thoroughly investigated,” Mr. Rörig said. “The case in Staufen has exposed an array of misjudgments and failures. We owe it to this child to draw the right consequences.”

The pair, who lived in Staufen, in southwestern Germany, were arrested in September 2017. They were found guilty on Tuesday of 40 charges of aggravated sexual assault, including rape, forced prostitution, distribution of child pornography and child endangerment. Both had admitted at the start of the 11-day trial to abusing the boy, now 10.

Christian L. was also found guilty of sexually assaulting a 2-year-old girl in early 2015. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail and ordered to remain in preventive custody upon his release.

According to the court, Berrin T. helped facilitate her boyfriend’s contact with the little girl, who was mentally and physically disabled. Several months later, in May 2015, the girl’s mother broke off contact with the couple, effectively ending her abuse.

Christian L., a known pedophile with a criminal record who had previously shown an interest in abusing little girls only, then began abusing the boy, the court said. Berrin T. did nothing to stop the increasingly perverse advances on her son, which began with showing him pornographic videos and bribing him with expensive gifts in exchange for being allowed to touch him inappropriately, it said.

When the trial opened in June, Christian L. admitted to the charges of abuse, telling the judge “I am the main culprit.”

But the presiding judge, Stefan Bürgelin, handed a longer prison sentence, of 12 and a half years, to the boy’s mother. She was always present during the assaults, the court said, initially calming the child and then sexually assaulting him herself.

In his pronouncement, the judge cited a video showing Berrin T. violating her son as evidence that her offenses were not only sexual, but also included emotional and psychological abuse. He said she broke her son’s trust in his “closest female caregiver” and robbed him of the protection of his home.

“If the boy dared to show or voice any resistance, he was frequently ignored, or dismissed with physical abuse,” the court said, adding that the couple would “regularly shout at him” and insult him using “an utterly contemptuous choice of words.”

Before the arrest, the youth services agency considered the man a potential danger to children because he had been caught with child pornography in an unrelated case, and was ordered by the authorities to stay away from children. The agency also knew that he was frequently in the boy’s home.

In early 2017, the agency’s concern was great enough to temporarily place the boy in a foster home, but he was returned to his mother after she convinced a family court that she was aware of her boyfriend’s history and could protect her son from him.

The mother, who had sat stonily throughout the trial, showed no emotion while the sentence was read out, German news media reported. She chose not to challenge the ruling, which in addition to jail sentences, included fines worth 42,500 euros, or $49,200, to be paid to the victims.

“She accepts full responsibility for what happened to her son,” Matthias Wagner, an attorney who represented the mother told the Badische Zeitung newspaper. “This is important for the boy. He can now be certain that this process is over.”

But in a country where a mother’s “right to the protection and welfare of society” is enshrined in the Constitution, it was the role played by Berrin T. that most appalled Germans.

“When parents become criminals to their children, the state must protect the child, with everything in its power,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper wrote in a commentary. “It must protect children from their parents.”

The identities of the victims were not made public, in keeping with child protection laws. Authorities have placed the boy in the care of a foster family.

Several of the men who paid to assault the boy have also been convicted, and on Monday, one was handed a 10-year prison sentence by a Spanish court. All but one found their victim on the dark web — parts of the internet that are concealed from view and are used for anonymity and criminal activity.

Peter Egetemaier, chief of the criminal police in Freiburg, said investigators were lucky to get a tip from an anonymous user who came across the videos advertising the boy. A buyer had asked whether he could kill the boy after assaulting him, leading the tipster to alert both the federal police and the state police.

“It was an exceptional case — we were very lucky — but it won’t always be like this,” said Mr. Egetemaier in a telephone interview. Because Christian L. cooperated with authorities, they were able to glean crucial insights into the netherworld of criminal pedophilia that takes place online.

Confident that they have found everyone involved in the boy’s case, Mr. Egetemaier’s team is combing through material they collected to try to find suspects in unrelated cases.

“He opened a door to this very dark world for us,” Mr. Egetemaier said.

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