Surviving Bery: A Girlhood Trauma | DeLovie Kwagala
Surviving Bery: A Girlhood Trauma
Bernhard ‘Bery’ Glaser, was a German national who illegally operated ‘Bery’s Place’ in Kalangala, on Bugala island in Lake Victoria, Uganda for more than 10 years despite persistent rumors of abuse. Glaser was first arrested in December 2013 on charges relating to child abuse, but he was acquitted due to lack of evidence. Despite this initial arrest he continued to operate a home for girls and young women, where he was responsible for their care and welfare. He was arrested again in February 2019, this time facing 19 counts of aggravated defilement, child trafficking and operation of an illegal children’s home, and it was during this second trial that he died of cancer in May 2020.
He maintained his innocence throughout the court proceedings, despite a litany of evidence against him, and many people observed that throughout his life and trial he seemed to have been granted indulgences that a similarly accused local defendant would not have dreamed of. Survivors have testified that they were groomed by him and were abused throughout their time in his care, while being threatened with homelessness and public humiliation if they spoke to anybody about their plight. In spite of a growing chorus of concern about the actions of his organization, the surrounding community hailed him as a hero for his work. Rumors fell on deaf ears as community leaders closed ranks to protect him.
I spent time with around fifteen of his victims as they pursued legal action against him. From a shelter run by children’s rights advocate Namusoke Asia Mbajja, these strong young women pursued justice despite attacks from the Ugandan media which vilified them, questioned their integrity and painted Glaser as a victim rather than a pedophile. While there is no suggestion of any intervention in the legal processes of either of his trials, justice does not seem to have been swiftly pursued on behalf of his victims, and both the press and the state often instinctively believe Glaser over his victims.