The many publicised cases of sexual abuse at institutions during the 2010s saw policymakers and society pay greater attention to this issue. Three of Germany’s federal ministries, for instance, established the ‘Child sexual abuse in relationships of dependency and power at private and public institutions and within the family’ round table, created the Independent Commission for Matters of Child Sexual Abuse, initiated an Independent Enquiry, commissioned numerous studies, and launched projects, particularly in relation to prevention.
The round table’s recommendations were also incorporated into the German Federal Act on Child Protection, which has been in effect since 2012. In order to obtain a permit to operate, all child and youth-support institutions and services need to develop concepts that safeguard children’s rights, particularly in relation to protection against abuse, and their rights to participate and complain (Section 45 of Vol. VIII of the German Social Code). Full-time and volunteer workers in child and youth support must, in accordance with Section 72a of Volume VIII of the German Social Code, also be able to provide an enhanced criminal record certificate. Anyone who has been convicted of sexual abuse will be unable to work in these fields. The Supplementary Aid System (Ergänzendes Hilfesystem), aimed at mitigating ongoing negative impacts of abuse for affected parties, and which supplements existing the social welfare system, has also been established. Since January 2017, children who are victims of abuse have a right to psychosocial assistance in criminal proceedings.
Despite these developments and the growing awareness of study results, cases such as the Staufen and Lügde cases illustrate that the difficult situation and plight of sexually abused children are not being recognised or taken seriously enough. Particular criticism must be levelled at the relevant authorities, such as youth welfare offices and police stations, which have not adequately followed up evidence of child sex abuse, and have thus not protected the affected children. The actions and decisions of the competent family and criminal courts are unacceptable, having not listened to the children, and having incorrectly assessed the risk situation on countless occasions. A summary compiled by the Independent Enquiry based on statements from affected parties reveals a loss of trust in the police and justice system.
Although the two Christian churches have taken various measures to ensure prevention and better intervention, and have initiated revision processes, cases of sexual abuse by church representatives have been hushed up, trivialised and/or only been handled internally for far too long. As such, many perpetrators have evaded state justice, and have not had to take adequate responsibility for their harmful actions. It would thus be important for many affected parties, and would help with their own rehabilitation, if the injustice committed were to be declared by the state. Victims also complain that the churches do not listen to them or involve them enough.
Contrary to all findings, including in terms of extent, it has still not been possible to implement training on the subject of sexual abuse as mandatory content of vocational and tertiary education courses taken by those working with children and adolescents.
- The National Coalition Germany recommends that the UN Committee call on the German federal government to
- 65. Update the ‘Action plan to protection children and adolescents against sexual abuse and exploitation’;
- 66. Reform Section 45 of Volume VIII of the German Social Code to broaden the obligation to include existing child and youth-support institutions and set up suitable processes for involvement and lodging complaints in personal matters;
- 67. Demand national and interdisciplinary commissions to unreservedly investigate the matter in areas where communication between the parties has been unsuccessful, where child wellbeing has not been taken seriously, and where no responsibility has been taken for child protection, e.g. at churches and authorities;
- 68. Ensure specialist counselling and psychotherapy services which meet demand, and which are promptly available to children, including in ongoing preliminary and criminal proceedings;
- 69. Work with the federal states to implement child sex abuse training as compulsory content of vocational and tertiary education courses taken by those working with children and adolescents.