Improving coordination of victim support in Berlin 

By February 22, 2021 News from members

Winter 2021 News from Arbeitskreis der Opferhilfen (Germany)  

Victim support in Germany is not organised uniformly. The „Weisse Ring“is represented almost throughout the country with more than 400 bases, relying solely on unpaid volunteers. At least half of the states also have a network of state victim support centers with permanently employed specialized staff (mostly social workers). Paid professionals also work in the numerous counseling centers for women and children who became victims of sexual and domestic violence. Since 2016, the 16 federal state governments have appointed commissioners for victims of terrorism, each of whom operates counseling hotlines with a few employees. However, the entire range of assistance, which also includes a federal commissioner against the sexual abuse of children with a large staff pool and financial support, is quite confusing and differs from federal state to state.

Germany has a nationwide database („ODABS“). Crime victims enter their location, request, gender and age. They are then informed of the nearest support centre. The police, who are often the first contact for victims, are also required by a provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure (§ 406k StPO) to give victims written information at an early stage of all available local support services. Particularly in larger cities, victims are then confronted with a long list and find it quite difficult to chose the one most suitable for them. They also have to take the initiative, contact the counseling center, make an appointment, and so on. As a consequence, it is estimated that all the support services together reach only about 10% of those affected.

Germany’s largest city, Berlin, is now setting up a clearinghouse to help victims find the most appropriate counseling center for them and to access it more easily. The project is called „ProAktiv – Service Center for Victims of Crime“. The project is headed by „Opferhilfe Berlin“ (Victim Support Berlin), which was set up by the Berlin government.

The idea is that the police will ask those affected by a crime whether they want to provide their personal data and a brief outline of the crime to the „service center“. If they agree, the police then forward the relevant data fort hem. The service centre selects the most suitable of Berlin’s support units based on their specialization in certain victims or crimes, their capacities, their local location among others. With the information provided by the police the staff can then contact the victim by telephone or other suitable means. The victims do not have to become active themselves, but the counseling center comes to them with a support offer. The Berlin administration provides a total of two social worker positions, a part-time administrator and premises.

However, the realization of the project still has to deal with a number of difficulties, beginning with the fact that the police must make it clear to those affected that the permission to pass on data is totally voluntary (victims might think they do not have a choice since it is the police who asks for information). Also, some of the existing support centers have had good experience with the „walk-in structure“ that has long been in place and feel that they are already working to capacity as a result. In general, a very careful coordination of all existing counseling services is just as essential as a constant update of the (knowledge) database.

The project is to be launched in the next few weeks as a pilot project in one of the five Berlin police departments. We will report further details as soon as results are available.

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Katja Lechtenbörger for the ado e.V. (Arbeitskreis der Opferhilfen, Germany)