Where to Get Help when Child Abuse is Suspected
What is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional mistreatment of children. Most cases of child abuse occur in a child’s home, with other cases occurring in the organizations, schools or communities to which the child belongs. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.
Reporting a Suspicion
When there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse and there is no trustworthy person of authority to approach, the first necessary step would be to contact and inform the nearest German youth department (Jugendamt). Provided there is no immediate danger to a child’s life and limb, German youth/social services authorities generally advise to refrain from reporting it to a police/law enforcement office. The youth offices have been officially appointed by state and federal law to be the responsible authority for child welfare.
What Actions are Performed by the Jugendamt
Once the Jugendamt has been informed and is reasonably convinced that child abuse has occurred, they will form a “task force” to evaluate the potential/perceived risk to the child and how to proceed. They might include the child’s guardian/custodian/parent(s) in the working group, provided they are not the subject(s) of the investigation. In cases where there is suspected physical or sexual abuse, a medical examination is generally performed by a children’s doctor or hospital.
If the Jugendamt deems it necessary, they will call upon the family court to issue a protection order. In case of immediate danger, the Jugendamt is authorized to take the child into their care without such an order. The Jugendamt is also appointed to include other government institutions, such as the health department or the police. (Sozialgesetzbuch (SGB VIII) Kinder- und Jugendhilfe)
Child abuse cases are prosecuted by the district attorney. During prosecution the child victim is normally expected to testify, but this can be done without the defendant present and/or in a taped testimony. The child has the right to have a trusted adult present (parent, guardian, etc.) and the court will make special accommodations for the child in order to minimize the trauma of testifying. Family courts will also supply separate rooms and temporary care givers to aid during a trial. When abuse is confirmed, there are different levels of help available: Immediate intervention to stop the abuse (such as the removal of the child or the go-order, to remove the perpetrator from the family home) and the pre- and post assistance on an out-patient basis (counseling, therapy by organizations like Wildwasser or certified child therapists).
Organizations to Help in Sexual Child Abuse
The non-profit organization Wildwasser not only offers assistance to girls and young women, who have been sexually abused, but also provides guidance and advice to friends and family members (www.wildwasser.de). Wildwasser has offices in most German cities, which are listed on their website. The U.S. Embassy in Berlin, as well as the Consulates General in Frankfurt and Munich can also assist with the addresses of Wildwasser offices closest to the location of the victim.
Germany does not have a national crime victim assistance office, but offers a crime victim compensation program (Opferentschädigungsgesetz). This program provides compensation only to victims of violent crime. Compensation depends on the severity of the crime and might include, but is not limited, to medical rehabilitation, living cost compensation, or benefits for victims or their survivors. Foreigners (other than European Union citizens) will only receive compensation if their home country provides similar compensation to German victims. The Versorgungsamt (pension office) in the area in which the crime occurred will find out what benefits are available for the crime in question.
There are also charity organizations in Germany (see below) that will make referrals for psychological, medical and/or legal assistance and may provide some assistance benefits.
Victim Support Organizations
The Weisser Ring (White Ring) is a non-profit victim’s relief organization that assists crime victims and their families in accessing available resources nationwide.
The main office of the Weisser Ring in Mainz offers services in English.
Verein Dunkelziffer e. V.
Verein Dunkelziffer e. V. is a non-profit organization assisting sexually abused children and responsible family members by locating resources for assistance across Germany.
Telephone hours from 10am to 1pm Tuesdays and Thursdays – 040 42 10 700 10
Other hours call
0800-11 0 111 (Evangelical)
0800-111 0 222 (Catholic)
Children and Youth telephone ( M – Sat 2pm-8pm) – 0800- 111 0 333
Parents telephone (Mon and Wed 9-11am/Tues and Thurs 5-7pm) – 0800-111 0 550
U.S. Embassy Berlin
Routine calls: (030) 030 8305-0
Emergencies only: (030) 8305-0
Fax: (030) 8305-1215
U.S. Consulate General Frankfurt
Giessener Str. 30
60435 Frankfurt am Main
Routine calls: (069) 7535-2102 or 7535-0
After-hour emergencies: (069) 7535-0
Fax: (069) 7535-2252
U.S. Consulate General Munich
Routine calls: (089) 2888-580
After-hour emergencies: 089-28 88 – 0
Fax: (089) 2809-998