The city of Esbjerg has become the first in the country to be sued for having betrayed its responsibility to abused children.
The serial abuser known as the ‘Esbjerg man’ was convicted last year of threatening behaviour, rape, and the serious sexual abuse of eight children as young as six.
Parents of three of the victims now say that the abuse could have been stopped had the council heeded the numerous warnings it received about the attacker.
“We know that there were reports before my daughter was violated,” Anne Kjærulf, the mother of one of the victims, told the DR news magazine 21Søndag. “These were serious reports and he could’ve been stopped.”
Kjærulf said that her daughter is still suffering from the psychological effects of the abuse that she endured.
“She is not doing well at all,” said Kjærulf. “She is constantly afraid and crosses the street to avoid anyone she feels looks threatening.”
The parents are asking for 50,000 kroner in damages for each of the girls, but what they want most is an admission from the Esbjerg officials that the city broke the law and betrayed the trust of its children by ignoring so many strong warnings about the offender.
“We want justice,” said another mother of one of the victims, who chose to remain anonymous. “Esbjerg has failed us.”
The parents' lawyer, Helle Hald, agreed that the city must accept some responsibility for the damage done to so many children by one man.
“It is unprecedented to hold a city responsible for the actions of a criminal, but they had many warnings about this man and should have investigated sooner,” said Hald.
Johnny Søtrup (Venstre), the mayor of Esbjerg, said he recognised that some of the violent attacks may not have happened had officials acted sooner.
“If we had intervened earlier, some of this could have been prevented,” said Søtrup.
Esbjerg will now review the charges against it along with Kommunernes Landsforening, the local government association. The case marks the first time a local authority has been sued in connection with abuse, and the outcome could open the door for similar charges being filed in similar cases.
Rebild Council in northern Jutland was home to one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse in Denmark’s history, and the Social Ministry found that the council was guilty of mishandling four out of every five cases.
In the Rebild case, a 56-year-old father of ten sexually abused seven of his own children and two friends of one of his daughters.
Similar to the Esbjerg case, the Rebild Council was heavily criticised for failing to forcibly remove the children from the home, despite repeated alarm bells from concerned teachers and daycare providers.
If Esbjerg denies the claims against it, the parents can apply to take the city to court.