What are people's opinions of DUI offenders?

Gangster runner

Christoph Gebhardt

To person

Psychologist, Dr. of jurisprudence Christoph Gebhardt is presiding judge at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main. He is on the board of the “Working Group for Victims Aid in Germany”. He also co-founded Wiesbadener Hilfe, a victim and witness counseling service. Gebhardt has been committed to the victims and witnesses of criminal offenses as well as the rehabilitation of offenders for years.

Victims' associations repeatedly criticize the fact that the focus of criminal offenses is not the victims, but the perpetrators - be it in court or in the media. Victims sometimes suffer lifelong consequences of robbery, burglary or bodily harm. Christoph Gebhardt, presiding judge at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main and active on the board of the “Working Group for Victim Assistance”, outlines the consequences of the crime for victims, their rights and what victim assistance can do.

Victims now have more rights within criminal proceedings. They want to be heard during the trial and not just as evidence against the perpetrator. (& copy picture-alliance)

Victims of crime in Germany have only received more attention in the last few years. It started with self-help groups of women victims of sexual and domestic violence. Later, victims of juvenile delinquency came into focus, making the term “juvenile intensive offender” generally known. Violence in school playgrounds, intimidation by youth gangs, stealing cell phones and jackets, and robbing old people increasingly attract attention, concern, solidarity and pity for the victims.

At the same time, the word “victim” has been adopted from the youth language since around 2005 and has become part of “Kiezdeutsch”. Those who are weak are called: "Sacrifice!" Instead of pity, it speaks of contempt. In the documentary “Gangsterläufer” it is important for the protagonist Yehya E. to emphasize at the beginning that none of his friends is a “victim”.

Number of victims in the light and dark field

The "Police Criminal Statistics" (PKS) annually records the victims of all reported crimes nationwide, the so-called "bright field". This includes all crimes reported to the police. In the PKS, the number of victims is broken down according to offense, age and relationship to the perpetrator. [1] Accordingly, in 2013 there were around 43,000 victims of robbery and around 560,000 of bodily harm (excluding road traffic).

However, many offenses are not reported at all, they form the "dark field". Victim surveys provide data on these crimes, which are not reported to the police, but these are not carried out regularly in Germany. In 2012, the “German Victimization Survey” was created: a representative survey of 35,000 people who were asked whether and how often they were victims of crime. [2] Depending on the offense, the actual crimes that have taken place and those reported to the police vary: 99 percent of the cases of vehicle theft are reported, 88 percent of cases of burglary are complete, and almost 32 percent of the acts of bodily harm.

Perpetrator and victim

Not all crimes have victims who suffer. No drug dealer's customer feels like a victim, even if their addiction should get worse with each drug purchase. Department store thieves or fare dodgers harm large companies or the general public, not individual people personally. With such acts, the perpetrator can think that he has actually not done anything bad to anyone.

Young people who exercise violence against their peers may also take comfort in the fact that they are not doing anything bad. The film about Yehya E. shows the "gangster run" - a catch game. Yehya explains the rule: Those who allow themselves to be caught must allow themselves to be beaten up without resistance, but then switch to the persecutor's side as the "catcher" and in turn beat the prisoners. Being a victim is a preliminary stage to the role of perpetrator, an "initiation ritual". Whoever wants to belong takes it upon himself. It's just bad if for him the world remains divided into two parts for life according to the motto: "If you don't become a perpetrator, you become a victim."

Consequences for victims

Victims, especially those of violence, often suffer long and hard times. In the film, the couple, who were robbed with guns at home by Yehya and his accomplices, have their say. That was in the summer of 2007. At the trial in early 2008, months after the crime, the assaulted woman did not overcome the consequences.

The consequences of the crime for the victims are different and depend on the crime and the personality of the victim. The longer and more brutally the perpetrator imposes his will on the victim, and the more he violates the victim's personal sphere of life, the more likely the serious psychological consequences are. Robbery, hostage-taking, willful bodily harm, stalking are particularly criminal offenses. Victims of burglary are also often severely and long-term frightened by the act: According to a new study, for example, almost ten percent of victims of burglary can no longer stand the affected apartment and move. [3] For this reason, the Criminal Code doubled the maximum sentence for burglary in 1998 to up to ten years.

The victim's psychological damage rarely shows up immediately after the crime. The victim is in shock, but continues to “function” in everyday life. His psyche runs in a kind of emergency program. After a while, some victims cope with the act of their own accord, and social support in family and at work is helpful.

Other victims experience sleep disorders, nightmares, obsessive thoughts about the crime (so-called intrusions) and anxiety attacks - often only after weeks. Those affected react by withdrawing, avoiding the scene of the crime or leaving their home less and less. In the first days and weeks after the crime, this is normal. If the symptoms last longer, there is a risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now at the latest, the victim should seek help and go to a victim counseling center.

Victim support and counseling centers

There are professional victim counseling centers in many cities. They are listed on the Internet in the ODABS database (“Online Database for Persons Affected by Criminal Offenses”) for many locations. There specially trained social workers advise those seeking help. The support is free and confidential. The police are also required by law to inform victims of their own volition when reporting a complaint to the local victim support (previously Section 406h of the Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO), from mid-2015 Section 406j and Section 406k StPO).

The help of the victim counseling centers includes:
  • practical support such as filling out the application in accordance with the Victims Compensation Act [4] or arranging urgent repairs (for example the door to the apartment after a break-in).
  • Stabilization: Victims receive individual advice in order to be able to cope with everyday life.
  • Distancing: Techniques are practiced with the victims, with the help of which they can counteract overwhelming feelings, thoughts and images.
  • Preparing for critical events (when going to the scene of the crime is inevitable, when the victim goes back to work, when the trial is about to begin).
The victim support helps where necessary, from a one-off interview to regular advice. They accompany you to offices and to court. In court, they are present as psychological support in the main trial against the perpetrator, not as legal advice, but there is a subsidiary prosecution. A secondary action is only permissible in the case of certain criminal offenses, for example bodily harm or stalking. This is intended to strengthen the rights of victims in criminal proceedings. The victim counseling centers can name lawyers who are experienced with accessory charges. They refer to specialized advice centers if necessary. If there is no professional victim counseling center in a city, the victim or their relatives can turn to the White Ring for help.

What do victims need in court?

Victims want to be heard during the trial and not just as evidence against the perpetrator. Since 2013, the Code of Criminal Procedure (Section 69, Paragraph 2, Sentence 2) has stipulated that victims must be given the opportunity to express their views on the consequences of the crime during the hearing of witnesses. Even if this can cost additional time in the course of the legal proceedings. Some judges are not yet familiar with this new provision, so more information is needed here.

The court must express in the conduct of the negotiation and the reasons for the judgment that the perpetrator wronged the victim. Especially in negotiations against young people, their problematic life story often pushes the injustice committed by the accused into the background. The film "Gangsterläufer" shows Yehya, an unusually eloquent juvenile offender. Mohammed Akkad, psychologist and, in the film, director of the juvenile detention center “Kieferngrund”, where Yehya was incarcerated at the time, says about the young offender that he has excellent manipulative skills. It is questionable whether the self-criticism, which Yehya repeatedly formulated verbosely, represents real remorse or an adaptation to what is currently useful. For a victim, it is hardly bearable when the perpetrator dominates the main hearing. Therefore, the court is required to make it clear that the perpetrator wronged the victim. In addition, a good co-prosecutor can intervene here and focus on the rights of the victim.

If the proceedings against the perpetrator are discontinued without conviction, the public prosecutor or the court must explain to the victim clearly why.

Offenders victim Compensation

In Section 10 of the Youth Courts Act, a possible instruction to the accused young person is mentioned that he should seek an offender-victim compensation (TOA). For adults, this is in Section 46a of the Criminal Code. There are TOA exchanges in almost all cities. The public prosecutor's office or (rarely) the court forwards the case files to her. If the victim and the accused agree, a “compensation talk” will be held in the placement offices. If this goes well, the perpetrator apologizes and takes over damages and / or compensation for pain and suffering within the scope of his possibilities. The victim accepts the apology.

The TOA is a good thing: the victim benefits from the fact that they can tell the perpetrator that they are injured and that the perpetrator has to listen to this in great detail. The encounter with the perpetrator can reduce fear if the victim remembers him as intimidating from the act, but then sees during the TOA conversation that his strengths are not far off. The main benefit to the perpetrator is that he is spared the stigmatizing conviction.

Two things are particularly important for the victim in the offender-victim reconciliation: First, the police and public prosecutor must have clarified who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. Unclear cases are not suitable for a TOA. Furthermore, the perpetrator must admit the act. Second, the victim's involvement must be voluntary and not based on persuasion - according to the motto: You don't want to spoil the boy's future!

(More) rights for victims

In addition to the rights mentioned - especially within criminal proceedings - there are many more. Victims also have rights outside of the proceedings, for example that offenders are not allowed to approach them or the sole right of residence in the event of domestic violence. It is also to be expected that the rights of victims will be expanded through further changes in the law in the future.