The latest statistics published by Germany’s Police Crime Statistics show 15,520 cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) in 2022, 74 percent of which affected girls, as well as 48,821 cases related to child pornography. However, the World Health Organization estimates that up to one million German children and adolescents are experiencing, or have experienced, CSA in their lifetimes—the equivalent of at least one child in every classroom. Germany defines CSA as “any sexual act that is carried out on children and young people against their will or that they cannot knowingly consent to due to physical, mental, intellectual or linguistic inferiority.” As they are unable to consent, all sexual acts performed on children under 14 years of age are considered to be “sexual violence.” Relevant laws and legislation that contribute to preventing and responding to CSA include the Child and Youth Services Act, which outlines the responsibilities of welfare services related to children, and the Protection of Young Persons Act, which seeks to safeguard youth from harmful influences and was reformed in May 2021 to better contend with online sexual violence.
At the national level, CSA in Germany is addressed most directly by the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues (UBSKM), which leads prevention and response efforts, directs research, and seeks to raise awareness about CSA, among other efforts. More broadly, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), which houses the UBSKM, oversees implementing plans and policies to protect and uphold the rights of children, including through the Protection of Young Persons Act and fostering the safe use of the Internet. However, much of the work to protect children from CSA in Germany happens sub-nationally, such as through state ministries empowered to implement youth policies, youth welfare offices, and state police forces.
The UBSKM was created in 2010 to respond to “hundreds” of cases related to various religious institutions and schools and was declared a permanent institution of the Federal Cabinet in 2018. As part of these efforts, it is supported by a “Survivors’ Board,” which helps integrate the views of survivors into policymaking, as well as the interdisciplinary National Council Against Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents, which brings together policymakers, experts, and civil society members to inform the country’s fight against CSA. In an interview with FP Analytics, Kerstin Claus, Germany’s independent commissioner for child sexual abuse issues, highlighted the essential role the Survivors’ Board plays in formulating effective and informed policy, noting that it leads to unique perspectives and involves “listening to what survivors have to tell, bringing together different experiences of where abuse happens, and learning more about perpetrator‘s strategies and helpful prevention and support services.”
The UBSKM’s budget more than doubled in recent years, increasing from EUR 5.9 million in FY 2020 to EUR 12.2 million in FY 2023. (See Figure 1.) This expansion has been driven by six-fold growth in the budget category “Measures to prevent, combat and deal with child sexual abuse and its consequences” over the same time period. (In FY 2023, this category alone surpassed total funding for UBSKM in FY 2020.) This category includes funding for a sexual abuse helpline, UBSKM initiatives such as “No Room for Abuse” and “Schools Against Sexual Violence,” and implementation and awareness campaigns, although the national budget does not specify how funding is divided among these ends. Other major budget categories specified within the UBSKM’s activities—including remuneration for civil servants, costs related to experts and advisory board activity, and funding for research—all remained largely stagnant over the same time period. While the UBSKM is a key part of Germany’s national-level response to CSA, it accounted for just under 0.1 percent of the BMFSFJ’s overall budget in FY 2023.
Annual Budget — Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues
Data Source: Federal Ministry of Finance.
The UBSKM does not appear to publish a national action plan or any comparable document that encapsulates all CSA-related spending undertaken by the federal government, but it does routinely publish position papers, such as how the UBSKM views and is addressing CSA in institutions, particularly churches, and commentary on recent legislation relevant to child abuse. The National Council Against Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents, involving the UBSKM and larger BMFSFJ, published a key planning document in 2021, a “joint agreement” between the two government bodies regarding action against CSA. While this document details findings and recommendations from across five working groups—on protection, help, child-friendly justice, protection from exploitation, and research and science—it does not contain any long-term mapping of spending related to CSA across these or other goals.
The larger BMFSFJ works to ensure and protect the rights of children, including through a sexual abuse fund for assisting survivors, help portals and contact lines for specialist and medical support, and prevention initiatives such as Trau Dich! (Dare Yourself!), which provides information for parents, professionals, and children to discuss CSA in their families and communities. While the ministry’s budget has grown by 30.8 percent from EUR 10.4 billion in FY 2019 to EUR 13.6 billion in FY 2023 (see Figure 2), very few of its budgeting categories beyond the UBSKM offer specific budget allocations related to CSA. For example, contributions for the Federal Center for Child and Youth Media Protection—charged with protecting children from harmful online content—appear to have grown from EUR 2.3 million to EUR 7.5 million between FY 2019 and FY 2023. (See Figure 3.) But this spending, again, is not specific to CSA, which makes it exceedingly difficult to discern the scope of financial commitments for CSA-related purposes or how funding is trending over time.
Annual Budget — Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth
Data Source: Federal Ministry of Finance.
Annual Budget — Federal Center for Child and Youth Media Protection
Data Source: Federal Ministry of Finance.
Overall, the day-to-day management and handling of CSA cases occurs at state and local levels. The primary state agency responsible for youth and child protection varies from state to state, such as the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in Brandenburg, the State Ministry for Family, Labour and Social Affairs in Bavaria, and the Ministry of Children, Family Affairs, Refugees and Integration in North Rhine-Westphalia. Each state also has at least one state youth office (Jugendämter) that ensures compliance with the Child and Youth Services Act and acts as an intermediary among survivors, communities, and state authorities. At the local level, there are nearly 600 youth welfare offices (Jugendamt) that offer various child welfare services and can aid children and their families in reporting a case, seeking medical attention, and accessing support resources. Similarly, while criminal laws and processes are dictated by federal law across Germany, the actual enforcement of these laws is carried out at the state level. For example, public prosecutor’s offices (Staatsanwaltschaft) in each state bear responsibility for prosecuting offenders in CSA cases, and each state has a police force that handles criminal investigations, including in cases of abuse. Given the significant role of subnational authorities, a comprehensive understanding of Germany’s efforts to prevent and respond to CSA would require a state-by-state investigation of investments through, at the very least, state youth ministries, state youth offices, local youth offices, public prosecutor’s offices, and state police forces, which is beyond the scope of this project but represents a promising area of future research.
There are several factors that signal Germany’s strong commitment to preventing and responding to CSA. First and foremost, the presence of the UBSKM—an independent government body charged with addressing CSA specifically—shows that the German federal government recognizes the urgency of the issue and the importance of having a policymaking body working on it specifically. Accordingly, policymakers, practitioners, and survivors are all being engaged in efforts to inform and improve Germany’s response to CSA. The UBSKM is also experiencing rapid budget growth, more than doubling its expenditures in the last four years, demonstrating the government’s will to complement an institutional framework with the resources to take action.
“Good policies require good data. We need the data to build stronger commitment, not for one year or two years, but long term.”
Kerstin Claus, independent commissioner for child sexual abuse issues
During an interview with FP Analytics, Kerstin Claus identified the lack of prevalence data as a key challenge to building out and targeting work on CSA in Germany: “What do young people today actually have on their plate? What do they suffer? How often do they experience certain forms of sexual violence? Where does this happen and to whom do they speak to find help? Do they actually know what structures we have in terms of support and advice? When we have these numbers on a regular basis then we can see if our political approach actually changes things, if it makes things better.” As long as gaps in data persist, it is challenging to build systems for sustained, effective change. As Claus concluded, “Good policies require good data. We need the data to build stronger commitment, not for one year or two years, but long term.”
From a budgetary perspective, there are also a number of factors that muddy a clear understanding of the scope of Germany’s overall efforts on CSA. Despite having very easily accessible federal budgets, complete with an interactive online interface, there appear to be relatively few budget lines specific to the issue. For example, the BMFSFJ’s only budget lines clearly devoted to CSA appear within the independent UBSKM, and the UBSKM’s section of the national budget offers no figures for specific activities beyond “Measures to prevent, combat and deal with child sexual abuse and its consequences”—more than half of the entity’s entire budget in FY 2023. A comprehensive analysis of activities to counter CSA in Germany is further complicated by the country’s heavily federalized design, as each of Germany’s 16 states has its own approach—institutionally and financially—to handling the issue. Even if Germany is making important strides to address the issue by global standards—scoring 10th on the Out of the Shadows Index—the absence of a clear and traceable national picture undermines independent investigation and evaluation of the resources allocated to enable those strides.