2002 – 2004
Gabi Schacht, Juristin (till February 2004)
Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Soziales, Frauen, Familie und Gesundheit
Since Germany’s Protection From Violence Act (Gewaltschutzgesetz) came into force on 1 January 2002, victims of domestic violence have been able to apply for orders directing an offender not to have any contact and to keep a certain distance (Section 1 of the Act) or awarding the victim exclusive use of the home (Section 2). This protection under civil law is augmented by the police more frequently instructing offenders to stay away. Ideally, a police stay away order (which applies for 7-14 days in Germany, depending on the state) will give time to obtain a civil law protection order.
The Lower Saxony Action Plan to Combat Violence against Women introduced supporting measures supplementing the Protection From Violence Act at state level. A central element of the Lower Saxony action plan was the establishment at the beginning of 2002 of counselling and intervention centres (BISS centres) for victims of domestic violence in six rural regions of Lower Saxony. Unlike conventional counselling centres, BISS centres take a proactive approach: When the police are called out to a domestic violence incident, they notify a BISS centre, which contacts the victim and offers counselling. The aim is to reach victims who would not have sought counselling on their own, or would not have done so at the time. BISS centres do not provide longer-term counselling or therapy. Instead, their work centres on psychosocial crisis intervention, planning safety measures for victims, and referral to other institutions. They also inform victims about their options under the Protection From Violence Act and, if the victims wish, help them in making applications. The BISS centres are thus part of an intervention chain comprising the police, the centres and the courts.
From May 2002 to December 2004, the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony conducted an evaluation study on the BISS centres funded by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Social Affairs, Women, Family Affairs and Health. The evaluation study applied a multi-method design across various phases of the intervention process, with data collection taking in the police, BISS centres and the judiciary as well as domestic violence victims. The study firstly aimed to document relevant cases as fully as possible with the aid of the police, BISS centres and the judiciary. To this end, databases were developed and implemented in collaboration with the respective institutions. Secondly, each of the three groups of professionals and the domestic violence victims were surveyed using standardised questionnaires. This written survey was supplemented by qualitative interviews with members of the three professional groups and with the counselled women. Taken in combination, these various approaches made for a total of ten survey components in the study.
Summarising the study conclusions, the BISS centres and their proactive work have been demonstrated to be useful and necessary. The proactive approach to women victims of domestic violence has been successfully implemented. A key aspect is that the proactive counselling approach also reaches domestic violence victims who have never previously received psychosocial counselling. In addition, however, women were provided with counselling who had heard about the BISS centres through the public relations work. The centres thus reach women in a wide variety of situations.
The BISS centres offer victims brief counselling, appraise their needs and refer them accordingly to further intervention services. Providing women with information on the diversity of options available, including the legal options, empowers them and considerably reduces their feelings of helplessness and of being at the mercy of the situation.
It is planned for the BISS centres to further extend their institutional networks, for example by intensifying their already close cooperation with child welfare and healthcare services. A range of issues that have come up in their counselling work – such as working with migrant women, cases of stalking and cases involving particularly dangerous offenders – confront the BISS centres with special challenges. Focusing on these will be helpful in further improving the service.