In its first baseline evaluation report on Germany, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) welcomes criminal law measures taken before and after Germany’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention in 2018, but also points out urgent steps that Germany should take to better protect women and girls from gender-based violence. Based on a detailed questionnaire and evaluation visit last year, involving meetings with relevant federal and state (Länder) government officials, parliamentarians and representatives of over 40 NGOs, GREVIO’s report, published together with the German government response, covers the period up to September 2021.
Among positive developments, GREVIO praises the consent-based definition of rape and sexual violence and the successful operation of a national telephone helpline. It commends the explicit criminalization of technology-facilitated abuse (such as cyber stalking, unauthorised taking of pictures of private bodily parts, sharing of images online and stalker ware) as having “contributed in recent years to a solid legal framework applicable to the digital dimension of violence against women.”
But serious gaps must be addressed, from a poor level of risk assessment and a need to improve the use made of protection orders and emergency barring orders, to lacking support services and shelters. An overarching issue is the lack of a national action plan, or coordination at the national level, as required by the Istanbul Convention. While some plans to stop violence against women at the state level are praised with examples, GREVIO is concerned by the “disparity” in levels of service, which vary “significantly” between the 16 federal states, or Länder, as well as within each federal state.
This disparity is reflected for example in lacking rape crisis/sexual violence referral centres and dedicated women’s shelters for domestic violence. Geographic coverage and availability of specialist services vary. In rural areas, specialist support services are much less established, or focus mainly on domestic violence, leaving victims of other forms of violence without adequate support. While services in principle exist for most or all forms of violence in larger cities, the ratio between staff and clients often leads to long waiting lists. In Berlin, for example, a city of 3.7 million inhabitants, only one counselling centre for rape victims exists, with fewer than nine employees and an average waiting time of two months for an initial session.
Based on this report, the Committee of the Parties, which is composed of the representatives of the State Parties to the Convention, will publish its recommendations to the German Government in December this year.