The uncovering of a number of serious cases of sexualized violence against children has highlighted the issue. The federal government now wants to punish such acts more severely. But the debate is not over.
On Wednesday, the federal government approved a bill to combat sexualized violence against children. The draft by Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) provides for tougher penalties, more effective prosecution and improved prevention. “In order to fight these atrocities with all our might and to better protect children, we have decided on a comprehensive package,” Lambrecht said in Berlin on Wednesday.
According to the draft bill, among other things, the distribution of child pornography is to become a crime – with a prison sentence of at least one year. Currently, such acts are classified as misdemeanors for which courts may also impose lesser penalties. Sexualized violence against children will in future be punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years instead of the current 10 years. It would be impossible to discontinue proceedings for minor offences or against conditions.
The debate about tougher penalties was rekindled, for example, by the abuse case in Münster, which now has 21 suspects. In North Rhine-Westphalia in particular, a whole series of serious cases of sexualized violence against children had recently come to light – including the so-called Bergisch Gladbach abuse complex.
Minister of Justice Lambrecht had initially rejected demands from the CDU/CSU for tighter regulations and instead called for better equipment for investigators, but changed her course after continuing criticism.
“In the future, sexualized violence against children must be a crime without ifs and buts,” Lambrecht explained. The same applies to the horrible pictures and videos with which these acts are turned into money. Whoever deals with cruelty against children should in future be punishable with up to 15 years in prison, Lambrecht emphasized. Due to the higher classification as a crime, the penalty for distributing and possessing child pornography would be at least one year. In the next step, the Bundestag will debate the draft bill.
In Bavaria, however, the penalty for dissemination does not go far enough. Minister of Justice Georg Eisenreich (CSU) pleads for at least three years imprisonment if someone “runs a forum that serves a larger number of people for the exchange or distribution of child pornographic material”, as he told Bavarian Radio.
According to Minister Lambrecht’s draft bill, the terminology is also to be adapted in the future: Instead of “sexual abuse”, the penal code will in future refer to “sexualized violence against children”. The choice of words “abuse” is inappropriate, as it suggests that there is also a legal “use of children”, the justification for the concept stated.
On Wednesday, Federal Minister for Family Affairs Franziska Giffey (SPD) praised the draft of her party colleague Lambrecht: “The protection of children and young people from sexualized violence can only succeed through comprehensive measures. She said that it would be a good idea to establish more protection and assistance for those affected everywhere.
CDU Secretary General Paul Ziemiak welcomed the draft and called for more far-reaching measures, for example in the protection of victims. “The fight against child abuse today is also taking place in the digital world. That is why it is important that in future we can oblige Internet providers to store IP addresses for longer,” he told the German Press Agency in Berlin. The draft provides for the possibility of ordering online searches and traffic data surveys of retained data in the future.
The Federal Executive Director of the German Association of Judges, Sven Rebehn, said that a broad-based package of measures was needed to protect children from violence and abuse in the best possible way. This includes that the federal states should improve the personnel and technology of their youth welfare offices, police authorities, public prosecutor’s offices and courts.