Help for Survivors: where to seek relief as a victim of sexual assault in Berlin
Since the start of the #MeToo movement in 2017, increasing light has been shed on women and non-binary people who have experienced sexual abuse, yet in 2021 it could not be more clear that the work has only just begun.
As a precursor to this article, we want to be clear that if men were educated about respect and consent, women would not have to be afraid to walk on the streets alone. Here at IWB, we firmly believe that all women and non-binary folks should be treated with respect in the first instance, and that sexual assault should never be something that is faced again. The responsibility to end this problem is on the abusers, not on the victims.
However, we live in a world where sexual assault, harrassment, abuse and rape do happen, and therefore there are survivors and victims who need help. This article is a guide for victims and survivors of sexual assault in Berlin, aiming to provide resources and advice for those who need it. Overwhelmingly, women in the IWB group report Berlin to feel like a safe city, with many women stating that they do not feel in danger here most of the time. However, sexual assault happens all over the world, and for this reason it is still important that the right resources and safety advice are available.
If you have been assaulted:
As a victim of sexual assault, it can be very difficult to think about doing anything, especially taking practical measures. However, for your own safety it is important to put your health first and make an appointment with a gynaecologist as soon as you feel you are able to, so that you can have an STI/HIV test and the morning after pill if needed; for information on how to do this, visit the LARA Rape Crisis and Counselling centre’s website.
The next step is to document physical evidence of the assault if you have it; this can include any clothing, underwear, jewelry that you were wearing at the time, or objects you had with you. LARA recommends that you place these items in paper bags so that evidence can be taken from them.
Reporting the case to the police immediately can feel impossible, and if you feel you cannot manage then you can document your evidence with Charite’s “Gewaltshutzambulanz” - an outpatient clinic for Protection against Violence. They will collect evidence and keep a file of it for a year, which means you don’t have to press charges but you will have the option if you decide to. Reporting to the Gewaltschutzambulanz is done entirely without police presence; the police will only be involved if you wish for them to be, in which case they will pick up your samples from the clinic.
It is also important to remember that you do have the right to file a police report immediately if you wish to. Sexual violence is a crime, and police are obligated to investigate your case. You have the right to a translator during police questioning, and you are also able to request a female police officer. If your report is filed immediately after the event, the police will be able to arrange a medical examination for you.
The limitation period in Germany for cases of rape is currently 20 years, so you do not have to report the event right away. If you are more comfortable, you can take advice from LARA or other services beforehand.
Survivors: Know your Rights
Sexual violence in Germany is a crime, and therefore you have a right to a full police investigation if you have experienced it. In recent years, German legislation on the subject has been updated and amended to place more of a focus on victims of sexual violence and their protection. In 2016, the ‘No means No’ law was passed, making it illegal to continue to make sexual advances towards someone if they have said ‘No’. Furthermore, there have also been amendments made to laws surrounding groping, for which offenders can face up to two years in jail.
If you are a victim, it is important to know what your rights are and what actions you can take. The European Institute for Gender Equality is a great resource for looking at whether what you have experienced is a crime and what actions you are able to take about it.
The crisis centres and resources listed below will help you outline your rights for free, including LARA or any crisis centres listed in the bff directory. These institutions focus specifically on sexual violence and have experience in dealing with a wide variety of cases. As discussed before, you can also contact the police directly to report a crime of sexual violence.
Listed below are different Berlin-based resources you can use if you are a survivor of sexual assault, including counseling services and centres that offer legal advice. Once the practical issues such as medical examinations and reporting the assault (if you wish to) have been taken care of, It is important that you seek help if you feel you need to.
Being assaulted can send your body into shock, which can last for days afterwards. This can lead to feelings of restlessness, tenseness, depression, exhaustion, or numbness. After this period it is common to struggle with anxiety, trouble sleeping or nightmares as well. These are normal responses for your body and mind to have, and it is important that you are in a safe and supportive environment while you experience them.
Speaking to family and friends can be very helpful in the times after the event, so that they can provide support. For some survivors, additional counseling or attending support groups are massively effective in working through the trauma and feeling like they have a network of people who understand. Above all, it is important to do what is necessary to protect your mental health and look after yourself.
The bff directory has a list of resources which can be filtered depending on the kind of support that you need. This includes various types of counseling and therapy resources.
The IWB also has an excellent network of women and non-binary folks who are always willing to help and support one another. This is particularly useful for those who do not have a support network in the city. Many members have been able to speak up about their experiences, and in return have had an overwhelming response of offers for support from other members; we are a part of an amazing community that we can use!
The key thing to remember is to take care of yourself and seek the help that you need. It can be very difficult to speak up as a victim of sexual assault, but it is umportnat that you make yourself the number one priority. If you can, speak to those around you and get support where you can, remembering that there is no shame in what happened or in seeking counselling to help with it. Above all, always remember you have done nothing wrong, and that you deserve help.
LARA - Rape Crisis and Counselling Centre. Offers unbureaucratic assistance for women, girls and trans folks over the age of 14 who have been raped, sexually abused or sexually harassed. Support is offered here regardless of when the abuse was and who committed it, and they allow for full anonymity and confidentiality. Counselling by telephone or in-person, and in a crisis situation you can be seen without an appointment.Free legal advice from female lawyers is offered every Tuesday - you can arrange this via the hotline number.
Weisser Ring - Offering free help for victims of crime, assisting victims through counselling, accompaniment to court, covering the initial cost of trauma counselling and attorney fees, protecting the victims rights, amongst other things.
Charite’s Outpatient Clinic for the Protection against Violence
Frauenkrisentelefon - Offering counselling to women on any issue that they experience.
BFF - Federal organisation showing an index of over 160 rape crisis centres across germany (54 in Berlin).
Frauenraum - Directory of counselling centres and women’s shelters
BIG - Hotline for victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence. If you are not ready to speak about your experiences, they have a lot of information on their website as well
Gewalt Gegen Frauen - Hotline for those who have been specifically affected by abuse or harassment (Certified LGBTIQ friendly)
European Institute for Gender Equality - Index where you can check if what happened to you was a crime, and what next steps you can take
KV-Berlin - A directory of therapists covered by public health insurance
Group Posts :TW - these posts offer useful resources and women offering help and support, but some also have details of experiences with sexual assault.
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