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Published 01.07.24

Countering sexual violence against children and young people

Jutta Croll, SDC, SDC

Berlin, 27 and 28 June: summer conference of the National Council, it's hot outside, pleasantly cool in the new conference centre and there could be an association of lightness if it weren't for the heavy topics on the agenda. For two days, the focus is on sexual violence against children, on those affected who are now adults and on processing in institutions.

On the first day, Christine Streichert-Clivot, Minister for Education and Culture of the Saarland and President of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder, Josefine Paul, Minister for Children, Youth, Family, Equality, Refugees and Integration of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, Prof. Dr Winfried Speitkamp, State Commissioner for Child Protection in the Free State of Thuringia, Angela Marquard, Renate Bühn, both members of the Council of Victims of Sexual Violence at UBSKM, Michael Groß, Chairman of the Federal Association of Independent Welfare Organisations and Katja Adler, Member of the German Bundestag, Deputy Member of the Commission for the Representation of the Interests of Children (Children's Commission) discussed under the title "Much has already been achieved - much still needs to be done to protect children and young people from sexual violence". A lot has actually happened at federal and state level since Dr Christine Bergmann took on the honorary role of the first Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues in 2010 and personally dealt with well over 10,000 enquiries from victims during her term of office, which lasted until 2011. The cabinet decision of 19 June 2024 on the so-called UBSKM Act is considered a milestone. This will legally establish the structures of the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues (UBSKM) and the Council of Victims, and a centre for research into sexual violence against children and young people is to be set up. Despite all the joy about this important step, there is still a lot to be done, as emphasised in particular by the two representatives of the Council of Victims during the discussion. Representatives of support services also pointed out that there is a lack of financial and human resources and that there is a huge need for specialised staff.

After this introduction, the topics were explored in greater depth in specialised forums. These dealt with the inclusion of children and young people with disabilities, the role of youth welfare offices in combating sexual abuse, the development of protection concepts in schools, state councils for victims in Germany, child-friendly justice and the dissemination of scientific findings.

When Dr Christine Bergmann was bid farewell at the end of the day, there were tears, but there was also the hoped-for lightness, not least because she stood up as a strong voice for children's rights and once again called for children's rights to finally be enshrined in the Constitution. According to Bergman, this was not just a symbolic act, but rather a signal to society to immediately realise the primary consideration of the best interests of the child.

Nationaler Rat-Kinder- und Jugendbetreuung

The second day opened with two presentations on the topic of "Protecting children and young people from sexual violence online - current usage experiences of young people and technical potential". The two speakers, Ayla Askin and Dr Dorothea Czarnecki, provided convincing and highly competent information on various approaches to protection. Ayla Askin introduced the peer-to-peer counselling service JUUUPORT e. V., where she volunteers as a team member, and described the problems that young people face today and for which they seek advice and help from JUUUPORT. These range from cyberbullying and cybergrooming to sexual violence and sextortion, i.e. blackmail using intimate photos.

Dr Dorothea Czarnecki, who heads the Child Protection and Human Trafficking department at FORENSIK.IT GmbH, followed on from this and explained which forensic methods can already be used to uncover criminal activities on the internet. So-called 'financial sextortion' involves sending users explicit sexualised images - often generated using artificial intelligence - and putting them under great time pressure to make a payment. FORENSIK.IT's task is to support the investigative work of law enforcement authorities. For example, criminals could be convicted by means of data analysis; a high number of simultaneous chat histories, chat messages often sent to hundreds of contacts at the same time using copy and paste, etc. would provide evidence of conspicuous and relevant usage behaviour.

The attendees of the summer conference then discussed issues of sexual peer violence, how protection concepts can be designed inclusively, how psychotherapy can affect the credibility of those affected in criminal proceedings and which support services for children and young people who have been trafficked can be considered good practice in four further specialist forums.

The event ended with a summary and an outlook on the future work of the National Council. The conclusion that much has already been achieved in the protection of children and young people is justified. At the same time, the realisation that the challenges will not become any smaller in the future, even in the face of advancing digitalisation, had the same effect as the expectations that rest on the implementation of the UBSKM Act. This is a lasting basis for the work of the National Council and an incentive for further networking and good professional cooperation. According to the unanimous opinion, it is important to continue along the chosen path and to treat children and young people equally.