Hotline as a “door opener”

The German Bishops' Conference has presented an interim report of its hotline for victims of sexual violence. Accordingly, from March to mid-October of this year, 3.431 calls were made over the phone and 213 Internet counseling sessions were used.

22.845 people obtained information about the service at www.HELP The basis of the interim report is 1.325 basic survey questionnaires and 245 additional survey questionnaires with statistical data on telephone and Internet consultations. The nationwide hotline for victims of sexual violence is a service offered by the life counseling center in the diocese of Trier (integrated parenting, marriage, family and life counseling) on behalf of the German Bishops' Conference.

According to the evaluation, 664 users of the hotline have addressed sexual offenses that took place in a church environment. 432 of these were committed by priests or religious. 393 sexual offenses were named that were not committed in a church environment. Perpetrators here were z. B. Teachers in state schools and boarding schools, family members or responsible persons in associations. 16.1 percent of all victims stated that they had been abused at least once. 69.8 percent had been abused several times and 14.1 percent continuously. About 97 percent of callers reported being Catholic at the time of the crime. A good 12 percent emphasized that they had since left the church.

"…, so that this will not happen again today."
Many people used the hotline as a further "door opener": 46 percent obtained information about counseling-therapeutic services, for example, for male victims or couples counseling. Nearly 34 percent of callers were referred to the appropriate diocesan and religious officials on ies of abuse. 9.2 percent wanted information about legal advice. Around 8.8 percent were referred to the German Bishops' Conference's Home Children Hotline. The topic of "compensation" was raised by 6.4 percent of callers. The most common reason, besides their own distress, that counselors heard on the phone for the calls was "…, so that this does not happen again today."

According to the counselors, the conversations clearly showed that the people who have been victims of sexualized violence are a differentiated group. They ranged from people who reported suffering lifelong damage from severe sexual trauma or having psychiatric problems to those whose injuries were recognizably healed and overcome well. The decision to staff the hotline with psychological and socio-pedagogical specialists with counseling and therapeutic training has proven successful. The seriousness of the violations inflicted is shown by the fact that the majority of the offenses named were from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, which are time-barred under criminal law.

With regard to the perpetrator strategies described by victims, there was no fundamentally different profile between the ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical sectors. Compared to international studies, the proportion of men among those who reported having themselves been victims of sexual violence by church employees is admittedly lower. But at 50.6 percent (52.1 percent among those who said the perpetrator was a priest), it is higher than any percentage known so far from scientific studies in Germany.

Overall, there seems to be a question of a pervasive culture of attention and transparency on the part of the church, as is also the case with other professional groups in the person-related field (doctors, lawyers, counselors, etc.).) is called for. Such a different culture and a better approach also correspond to what many victims expect from the church. Time and again, there have been requests for church leadership to take note of the full extent of crimes against children and the devastating effects, to better protect minors and offer them help. The hotline as a partisan offer for victims was welcomed as a step in the right direction. Many said it was the first time they had overcome their shyness and misgivings and talked about their experiences.

The victims' reports provided valuable information for the preventive work in the dioceses and institutions. In particular, their information was also used in the preparation of the framework regulation on prevention, which the German Bishops' Conference adopted at the end of September.

The free hotline (toll-free from German landlines and mobile phones) is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 13.00 o'clock to 21.00 o'clock under 0800-120 1000 attainable. More information and online counseling at www.abuse of Four advisors are currently working on the hotline, which is to be up and running by September 2011.

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Christina Cherry
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