They were sent to a shelter for safety. Instead, these women say they were sexually abused
Updated 7:53 AM ET, Thu February 13, 2020
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This article contains sexually explicit language.
Kampala, Uganda -- When Patricia was picked up by police at the age of 11, she felt relieved.
Sold by an uncle to her teacher, she was raped and abandoned in Kalangala, a district of islands on Lake Victoria, in Uganda.
Patricia thought her luck had changed when police officers from a local station told her there was a man nearby who helped survivors of sexual abuse like her.
"A big, fat, old muzungu [foreigner or white person] came for me. They said he is taking care of girls in your situation," Patricia, who is identified using a pseudonym, told CNN.
"They said Bery is a good person and he will take you. I was a bit afraid, but I said OK since there are other girls there too."
Bernhard "Bery" Glaser, a German national who describes himself as a "retired health professional," founded Bery's Place, a children's home in Kalangala, with his wife in 2006. According to his website, Glaser has provided a home for dozens of girls, some of whom have survived "physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse and violence," or been "trafficked, abandoned -- or rejected -- by their legal guardians."
"For my kids, I'm the mommy, I'm the daddy, I'm everything," Glaser says in a promotional video.
But five women in their late teens and early twenties interviewed by CNN, including Patricia, allege that Glaser sexually and emotionally abused them at Bery's Place. Survivors names have been changed to protect their identities.
The young women say that Glaser subjected them to repeated "vaginal examinations" involving sexual touching and forced them to sleep in his bed, where he allegedly sexually assaulted them. When the girls objected, they say Glaser would threaten to cast them out on the streets. Survivors say this kept many of the girls -- some of whom had previously been abused, or suffered other traumatic experiences -- from speaking out.
Bery's Place is one of hundreds of homes for vulnerable children purported to be operating illegally in Uganda -- children's homes must be registered with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development under Ugandan law. In 2018, the Ugandan government announced plans to close over 500 unregistered homes in the country. A lack of government oversight combined with an open-door policy for foreign investors and volunteers has left girls like Patricia vulnerable to abuse.
After more than a decade running Bery's Place, Glaser was detained last February, when he turned himself in, then formally charged and arrested in April with 19 counts of human trafficking, seven counts of aggravated defilement, one count of indecent assault and one count of operating an unauthorized children's home. Thirteen girls were found at Bery's Place when police raided the home in February, while others were reportedly at school, according to lawyers supporting the prosecution.
Almost a year on, Glaser's trial has been postponed at least eight times because of requests made by his legal team, including claims he is unfit to stand trial due to an ongoing cancer battle.
Glaser is currently at the Uganda Cancer Institute, awaiting a hearing on his bail application.
In a statement sent by WhatsApp to CNN, a lawyer representing Glaser denied that he had committed the alleged crimes, and emphasized the seriousness of his deteriorating health.
"Mr. Glaser maintains that he has never defiled or trafficked any one and shall prove his innocence in the Court of law in Uganda and has more than enough evidence and witnesses to disprove all the false allegations against him," his lawyer, Kaganzi Lester, said.