Vicki Bernadet
Ashoka Fellow desde 2006   |   Spain

Vicki Bernadet

Fundación Vicki Bernadet
Vicki Bernadet is bringing the issue of sexual abuse of children to the attention of Spanish society through public awareness and education. Her counseling center helps victims to break their silence…
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This description of Vicki Bernadet's work was prepared when Vicki Bernadet was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.


Vicki Bernadet is bringing the issue of sexual abuse of children to the attention of Spanish society through public awareness and education. Her counseling center helps victims to break their silence and seek the support needed to recover.

La idea nueva

Vicki is drawing public attention to a topic that has been veiled in taboo and secrecy: the sexual abuse of children. Vicki founded FADA (in Catalan means Fairy Godmother)—the only organization in Spain that provides support to adults sexual abused during their childhoods. FADA helps renew self-esteem and psychological stability to those still recovering from traumatic experiences. While she provides support and care to adult victims of sexual abuse, Vicki understands that preventing sexual abuse among children is just as important. Only when society recognizes and confronts this problem can many victims cease being inhibited by shame and guilt and begin to seek help. She educates children and trains professionals—teachers, psychologists, lawyers—to teach children how to identify cases of abuse and take appropriate action. From her personal experience as a child victim of sexual abuse, Vicki uses the media to help break the “circle of silence” around the issue and, by example; lead others to seek assistance.

El problema

Child sexual abuse is a phenomenon that, though alarmingly common, hides behind a curtain of secrecy. This makes obtaining accurate statistics nearly impossible. Nevertheless, the few studies done in Spain, some countries in European Union, the United States, and Canada estimate that 23 to 25 percent of girls and 10 to 15 percent of boys are sexually abused before the age of 17. Typically, the abuser is a family member or someone within the child’s social circle. Two aspects of Spanish culture help to hide abuse. First, the family is perceived as an untouchable institution. Second, it is taboo to openly discuss sex. Therefore, the problem of child sexual abuse remains largely hidden and preventative measures, treatment, and support services are not part of the public dialogue. In addition, children often don’t understand why they are being sexual abused—or that the abuse is not normal—they may feel like accomplices or ashamed to identify their abuser. Their silence may last for decades, while abusers rely on the “impunity” of their silence. It is estimated that 60 percent of abuse cases are never revealed, and the victims do not receive psychological help. As a result, this issue affects a victims’ adult life; contributing to low self-esteem and in many cases leading to addictive behavior such as gambling, alcoholism, and eating disorders. Many people have problems relating to their spouses or partners or fall into a pattern of receiving or inflicting physical or sexual abuse.Because so many victims remain silent, information about the prevalence and nature of sexual abuse is scarce, and the number of trained professionals working with children is insufficient to detect the problem early and encourage them talk about and receive treatment.

The treatment given to a child victim of sexual abuse is usually the same as what is provided to young victims of any type of abuse. However, sexual child abuse from a family member or someone from the child’s inner circle has a complex series of symptoms that are difficult to detect and require specialized attention. Traditional psychological paradigms have no specific detection mechanisms for inter-family sexual abuse. Nor do they suggest treatments or recommend institutions specifically for this problem.Those adults willing to talk about their trauma often feel loneliness and rejection, sometimes from their own families. The cultural taboos make it much harder to encourage speaking out, taking action, and seeking treatment to be able to psychologically let go of this burden.

La estrategia

Vicki has developed a comprehensive approach to the problem of child sexual abuse. She focuses on two areas: educating professionals, adolescents, children, and society in general; and, counseling and supporting victims and their families or through mutual support groups.To create greater sensitivity to the problem of sexual abuse, Vicki is working with media and educational institutions. From the start, she was convinced that using the media was critical to educate the public. She also educates specific target groups. With other professionals she has developed workshops and courses directed at children and adolescents and has participated in educational programs for professionals working with children, such as teachers, psychologists and lawyers, to help them detect possible cases of abuse and if necessary, to provide counseling. In 2005, 33 workshops and courses took place, and in the first half of 2006, 37 educational and training seminars were held. Vicki’s personal experience is an essential element in her strategy. She presents herself to the public as someone able to break her silence, seek help, and improve her life. By following her example, other victims find it easier to step forward and do the same. Much like Vicki, by sharing their experiences they take the first step toward overcoming their trauma. This is only the beginning. Next the victims need the support and treatment of trained professionals.Vicki has established a center to provide direct support. She works with the “complete circle” of those affected: children, adults, their respective families (rarely the abusers) and friends. However, her principal strategy is centered on adults who were victims of abuse in their childhood since there is no other organization or institution specialized in this area. FADA is above all a meeting point for anyone to freely attend; it is a place where victims share their experience when they feel it’s appropriate, but it is not a prerequisite to participate. There are venues of open encounters where many people come to talk, volunteer, or simply listen. Currently, the association has six people working full time and six free-lance professionals. Among them are psychologists, psychiatrists, and attorneys. In the past 5 years FADA has tended to 3,000 people in Catalonia.Every appearance in the media brings an avalanche of phone calls and requests for help from all over the country. Vicki sees the need to replicate FADA to meet the tremendous requests for services, and to facilitate this, established the Vicki Bernadet Foundation in 2006. The foundation will serve as a platform to expand the work of the organization to provide support to victims in other regions. Some Latin American countries have also turned to Vicki for consulting and advice about founding organizations similar to FADA.

La persona

Between the ages of 9 and 17, Vicki was the victim of repeated sexual abuse by someone within her family. It was only at age 34, after struggling with shame and low self-esteem, that she decided to speak about what happened. But she confronted two harsh realities: her family did not respond the way she had expected and some were skeptical, questioning why Vicki had waited so long to speak. Vicki quickly realized she had nowhere to go for help. There were no institutions or associations that helped adult victims of sexual abuse without continually asking uncomfortable questions; making her unnecessarily relive the past.With a group of friends and volunteers, Vicki founded FADA in 1997. The initial years were especially difficult: there was no money, no support and most of all no receptiveness to Vicki’s ideas. She opened a small office where the victims could come to talk with someone who would listen without asking questions. Many of them would bring their families along to help them understand and overcome the fear, guilt and embarrassment. For those who wanted to continue with treatment, Vicki hired a part- time psychologist to provide professional support. The number of victims coming to FADA grew rapidly; a sign that the demand was there, but when Vicki presented her idea to potential donors, she was met with little enthusiasm and told that her idea was not marketable. The media was also reluctant to pursue a topic that many thought would generate little attention. FADA continued its work from Vicki’s modest savings and her time. At the end of 1999, nearing the end of their funds, a surprising donation arrived on Christmas Eve—finally a donor understood the importance of her work. Ten years later, FADA is a model in the field and is spreading throughout Spain. Although sexual abuse of minors is not going to disappear, like other kinds of violence or abuse, Vicki has committed her life to help people stop suffering. She dreams of the day when statistics of abuse have significantly dropped. Despite pain from a chronic illness, Vicki demonstrates conviction and determination to overcome difficult trauma and has benefited from fostering solutions and change to address this issue.

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