“Coming to rest”

Victims need help © Weisser Ring e.V.

Roswitha Muller-Piepenkotter © Michel Mÿller

40 years ago, the victim assistance association Weiber Ring was founded. Federal Chairwoman and former CDU Justice Minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, Roswitha Muller-Piepenkotter, talks about the beginnings and current ies.

CBA: Sometimes hope that the White Ring will become superfluous?

Muller-Piepenkotter: One can hope so, but that would certainly be an illusion. We can't fundamentally change people. There will probably always be crimes. We see that crimes are changing: Today we have stalking and cyberbullying. We didn't know that at all 40 years ago.
CBA: How the White Ring started 40 years ago?
Muller-Piepenkotter: The White Ring began with Eduard Zimmermann and various police chiefs, who learned from their work with the police and Eduard Zimmermann from his television programs "Caution Trap. 'Nepper, Schlepper, Bauernfanger' and 'Aktenzeichen XY' (XY Files)…unresolved" saw that victims continued to suffer for a long time and at the time also had little chance of receiving compensation. This is how they founded the association Weiber Ring in 1976. The first field offices were then set up in the very same year. In 1980, there were already 100 drop-in centers where volunteers were available – to listen, to accompany, but also to provide financial support. When, for example, the damage could not be compensated by insurance companies and victims became indigent.
CBA: What kind of employees were they, and what did they have to bring to the table??
Muller-Piepenkotter: They were policemen, psychologists, businessmen. The White Ring trains employees, it has done from the beginning. They are now accompanied by mentors in the initial period, seminars are underway. Anyone can participate who is psychologically strong enough, who wants to turn to people in need.
CBA: Why you have to be particularly strong psychologically?
Muller-Piepenkotter: Trauma therapists say that the most important thing for someone who has had a traumatic experience is a stable personality. Who allows him to come to rest, to find himself again, who listens, who does not comment and who is able to maintain professional distance.
CBA: What were the most important developments at the White Ring?
Muller-Piepenkotter: In 1976, the Victims Compensation Act was enacted. In our political work, we have been able to achieve, for example, that victim protection laws have greatly improved the position of victims and the right to information in preliminary proceedings – most recently last year with the third Victims' Rights Reform Act. We have had Crime Victims' Day since 1991, which repeatedly draws attention to the problem. Because it is a big problem for victims that the neighborhood, colleagues are only able to listen for a while. Then employees of the White Ring are needed, because not everyone can deal with the suffering, sometimes over many years.
CBA: Are there such cases?
Muller-Piepenkotter: Take the victims of the attack on the West Berlin discotheque La Belle in 1986. After that, victims have been accompanied by us for up to 15 years. This is an extreme case. But sometimes it takes a few years, because it also takes time to assert claims. Investigations and criminal proceedings drag on, and with them come new burdens all the time. As long as our employees are there.
CBA: What are the priorities of the White Ring today?
Muller-Piepenkotter: We want to improve our accessibility. Since 2005 we have had the victim telephone. We get about 350 calls a week that we pass on to others. A big ie is stalking in victim compensation. Whenever crime changes, politics is usually very delayed in following up. Stalking victims who suffer significant psychological damage do not get compensation under the law for vocational damages, for therapies. The reason for this is that the Victim Compensation Act presupposes a physical attack. Then we also deal with young people, for example cyberbullying.
CBA: What demands are you making of policymakers??
Muller-Piepenkotter: The change in the Victim Compensation Act as it relates to stalking, as well as the change in the Criminal Code as it relates to bullying, especially cyberbullying. These crimes are not properly recorded in the legal code.
CBA: Let's take a look at the New Year's Eve attacks on women…
Muller-Piepenkotter: Especially in these assaults in different cities, the victims have a tiny advantage: they are recognized as victims. That has not been the case for sexual offenses for quite a long time. It is important for us to be with victims, to support them in filing criminal charges and to accompany them. For victims it is important that they see: Something is happening, the investigations are progressing. In Cologne, a considerable number of accused have been identified. But of course it is also important for victims to see that the accused are prosecuted and that justice is done.
CBA: How many victims from New Year's Eve are you accompanying??
Muller-Piepenkotter: Surprisingly, we have only eleven. We also wondered a lot about this because it has been publicized that help is available. Women's support groups also have little demand. We attribute that to the fact that these victims are accepted in the close environment.
CBA: Does the White Ring also take care of refugees who have been victims of xenophobic crimes?
Muller-Piepenkotter: Within the limits of our possibilities, which are limited if you look at the number of refugees. It is the self-conception of the White Ring that we do not look where the victim comes from, but who has become a victim here in Germany. We need interpreters, of course. The contacts run through the organizations working in asylum-seeker facilities, such as Caritas. Other helpers and the police also come to us.

The interview was conducted by Leticia Witte.

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