The Catholic Church in Germany has closed its hotline for victims of sexual abuse due to lack of use. Critics say the church is not doing enough to counter this ongoing problem.
For two and a half years, the counseling service run by the Catholic Church was set up as a first point of contact for victims of abuse and their relatives.
Today, few people call the number, Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German Bishops' Conference, told Deutsche Welle. He said the telephone helpline had fulfilled its purpose and would be turned off at the end of 2012.
Incidents of abuse
Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig doesn't approve of this decision. He is the independent special representative for sexual abuse of minors, appointed by the German government. Telephone helplines are "important for the first step towards finding help," he said in an interview with German public television.
The toll-free number was set up in 2010, following an abuse scandal at a Catholic church in Berlin. As the extent of the case came to light, it became clear that other boys and girls had also been sexually abused at other locations in Germany.
The church's hotline was the first nationwide contact point for victims of sexual abuse. Several thousand people called the number, which was operated by the Trier diocese.
The hotline was shut down due to a lack of demand, Kopp said. Hardly any more calls came in after spring 2012, Kopp said, "which is why we announced in April that the hotline would expire at the end of 2012."
Lack of counseling services
Kopp responded to Rörig's criticism by pointing out that it was the church and not the government that had set up the hotline.
Michael Ermisch, head of the German government initiative for those affected by sexual violence and abuse, criticized the Catholic Church for offering the counseling, but not allowing external monitoring.
Ermisch, who himself is a survivor of abuse, said that he generally finds such hotlines useful as a first point of assistance.
The problem with state offerings, Ermisch said, is that they are obligated to immediately involve state agencies. Those affected are often not in a position to be questioned in the context of a criminal investigation, he said - "and they also don't want this, because they are afraid of the abusers hurting them further," Ermisch added.
Ermisch said the government doesn't offer enough support for victims of sexual abuse. "There's the government hotline, but that's it," he said. He said quick, simple help should be targeted toward young people in particular. He said the government should finance stability and couple therapy for those abused and, if necessary, their partners.
Set of measures
Since 2010, the Catholic Church has been addressing the issue of sexual abuse with a set of measures including prevention, financial compensation for victims and an invitation to speak.
Kopp said that there's a prevention and abuse officer available in each of Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses. "One can easily find their phone number and email address on the Internet," he said.
This type of long-term support is more effective than a hotline, Kopp said. A hotline that won't be ringing any more.
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