Many fields of law play a role in the context of child sexual abuse: naturally criminal law, but also victim compensation law, civil law, child and youth welfare law and of course, child rights. In some of these fields, a great deal has already been achieved for better protection against sexualised violence and above all, improved help and support for victims and survivors. Nevertheless, further action is still required.

Child Protection in Germany

Child and youth welfare services in Germany are obliged under the constitution to protect girls and boys from danger. On the ground in towns and municipalities, the youth welfare offices administer this “protection mandate”. Through its offers of assistance, the youth welfare office is supposed to engage in preventative work and must take action if knowledge of specific endangerment to a child’s welfare is obtained, for example, in cases of neglect or physical, psychological or sexual violence against children or adolescents.

Victims and survivors, their relatives, as well as experts receive advice and support in cases of sexual violence against children and adolescents at specialised counselling centres. Youth welfare offices also provide appropriate counselling services by experts who know the legal situation and are experienced in dealing with sexual violence, or who can provide a referral to a local counselling centre.

Child Rights

Children and adolescents have rights. In contrast to needs, which are subjective and dependent on the situation, rights are objective and independent of individual situations. The so-called child rights are divided into three groups:

  • the right to protection
  • the right to be supported
  • the right to participate.

The right to protection includes protection from sexual abuse and sexual violence. This protection should be ensured by national and international regulations. The most important treaty at an international level is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which in article 34 stipulates that all signatory states are obliged to protect children from sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.

Age appropriate English links to the subject of child rights

Criminal Law

Anyone who forces a child into sexual acts, demands that they perform a sexual act or forces them to watch such acts is punishable under criminal law, because special protection exists for children i.e. persons under 14 years of age. They cannot legally consent to sexual acts because their capacity for sexual self-determination is still developing.

The German law governing sexual offences recognises three different ages of consent:

  • below 14 years of age
  • below 16 years of age
  • below 18 years of age.

The sexuality of adolescents is also subject to state protection, for example if there is a relationship of custodial care for those under 16 years of age, such as exists between parents and children, at school or during vocational training. Under certain circumstances, young people are even protected until they reach 18 years of age, for example, with one’s own children, if the status of custodial care is exploited or advantage is taken of a high degree of dependency.

Under § 176 of the German penal code (StGB), sexual abuse of children is any sexual act which is performed with, by or in front of a child. Even the attempt at sexual contact with a child is punishable by law. Alleged consent by children, which is the argument repeatedly used by those accused, is legally invalid.

The threat of punishment also applies to sexual acts which do not assume any direct physical or skin contact. Therefore, anyone who performs a sexual act on himself or someone else in front of a child is liable to prosecution. This also applies if girls or boys watch such sex scenes via video stream.

Reforms in Recent Years

A great deal has occurred regarding criminal law since 2010. In 2013, the federal government stipulated in the Law to Strengthen the Rights of Victims of Sexual Abuse (StORMG), amongst other things, the general avoidance of the unnecessary huge strain on victims caused by, for example, multiple interviews. The law thus provides impetus for the increased use in practice of video recordings of judicial interviews in the actual trial. In addition, the law extends the rights of victims and survivors of sexual abuse to a closed hearing in the case of particularly sensitive subject matter. Victims of sexualised violence can also to a larger extent than before, make use of a male or female victims’ lawyer to represent them free of charge in criminal proceedings, irrelevant of their financial circumstances. Furthermore, the right to information for victims of crime has been considerably increased. In 2015, the legal time limit for reporting crimes was extended and the criminal-law protection of wards expanded. The criminal liability of so-called posing pictures was also substantiated and increased. In the same year, the 3. Victim Reform Law above all strengthened the right to information for victims of crime in criminal proceedings and the right to psycho-social support in these to be anchored in law.

Victims Compensation Law (OEG)

Persons who have suffered health impairment as a result of a violent crime can receive benefits under the Victims Compensation Law. The premise for a claim is that a person suffers from health problems as a result of an unlawful attack committed intentionally or in the legitimate and lawful defence thereof, e.g. within the context of child sexual abuse.

The catalogue of services includes, for example:

  • curative and medical treatment (including psychotherapy),
  • pension benefits (independent of the level of impairment and where applicable, income),
  • welfare benefits, if necessary in the case of specific assistance in individual cases (for example, benefits permitting the participation in professional life, for care and homecare, and as a subsistence supplement),
  • rehabilitation measures (for example, a stay at a spa).

Damage to property and pecuniary loss is not reimbursed under the Victims Compensation Law and the same applies to compensation for personal suffering.

Further information in English can be found here:

Financial support is also provided by the funds “Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment” and the “Additional Help System in the Institutional Sector”, as well as the “Recognition and Assistance Foundation”. Information regarding these funds can be found here.

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