Core Areas of Counseling for Victims of Right-extremist Violence

Their guiding principle is the promotion of the victims’ perspective towards right-wing violence. This is meant to guide the way to communal solidarity with victims and to support social initiatives that help prevent future right-extremist crimes and violence. Besides this, those affected by right-wing violence should have support in moving ahead, so they can once again take an active part in the community.

Generally, people who become victims of right-extremist crimes or violence are perceived within certain social spheres as ethnic, cultural, or social minorities. Responding to those affected by right-wing violence is top priority at the counsel center. The center takes the victim’s side. However it will only get involved if there are credible indications of a right-extremist motivation in addition to the injured party’s account of the incident.

The counseling process begins when right-extremists have committed acts of physical violence against an individual. Yet past cases have shown that injured parties also experience violence in the form of threats, libel, coercion, and property damages. Research in the social sciences reveals that facets of right-wing extremist ideology have pervaded socio-political discourses and socio-cultural settings to varying degrees. Consequently, these extremists consider their actions legitimated through their self-proclaimed role as enforcers of a presumed »people’s will.« An approach that considers the victims’ perspective must also factor these aspects into the greater social context of right-wing violence.

1. Research

In terms of right-wing motivated attacks, a high number of cases go unreported — especially in cases of coercion, insults, and threats. Often, those affected aren’t well-enough informed and believe such incidents are non-litigable. Their prior experiences lead them to believe that these incidents are normal to a certain extent, and the sustained attack becomes just one of many in the long list of negative experiences. For many victims of violent right-extremist crimes, language barriers and experiences with discrimination also contribute to the sentiment that the police investigation and the judicial apparatus are non-existent. These various reasons may be why many crimes committed by right-wing extremists go unreported and are never made public knowledge. Systematic and on-going research, therefore, form the first core area of focus for outreach centers dedicated to helping victims of right-extremist violence and crimes. The goal is to research all attacks with an established racist, right-extremist, or anti-Semitic motive, so that those affected can be identified and offered help. At the same time, research serves the purpose of compiling information about the aggressors and their presumed motivations, which is important for the outreach centers’ future work.

The centers’ research is based on regular analysis of local and regional newspapers, various internet sources, and special press releases, in addition to information received from cooperation partners (journalists, police stations, state prosecutors’ offices, local public authorities, etc.)

2. Establishing Contact

Hands-on experience has shown that it is extremely important to those affected by right-extremist violence that initial contact be established with an outreach center as soon as possible after the attack. To this end, it is essential to assess the facts of the case directly on site and in collaboration with cooperation partners. Outreach centers will, as a rule, contact victims by mail. This gives victims the chance to establish contact on their own accord.

Despite these efforts, very few victims come directly to the outreach centers. The situation of many people affected by right-extremist violence is very specific, characterized by lack of mobility, lack of knowledge about their rights, problems communicating in German, and a deep-rooted mistrust of public authorities and institutions. In practice, approaching the injured party directly has proven to be the most appropriate form of establishing contact. In light of wide-spread skepticism towards public authorities, especially the police, experience has shown that outreach centers have certain advantages as non-governmental organizations when establishing contact with victims — which can prove to be a most sensitive encounter.

Once the victims have been identified, the case is systematically researched and categorized. An extensive and well-maintained contact network to cooperation partners in the community plays an important role in this second core area of focus. These partners either put the outreach centers in direct contact with the victims or, if the victims agree, give the outreach centers the names of the victims. Through the increased presence of victims’ outreach centers and their involvement in counseling, this network can be strengthened and systematically expanded to include not only more cooperation partners, but also former victims of right-extremist violence. The latter, most of whom have solid relationships of trust with the respective outreach center, have repeatedly put individuals affected by this type of violence in contact with the outreach centers on their own accord. Because privacy laws prevent public authorities from passing on the victims’ names, former victims and cooperation partners closely tied to the municipality are of particular importance to the outreach centers.

3. The Counseling Process

In accordance with the standards established by the German Association for Victim Support (»Arbeitskreis der Opferhilfen«, acronym: »ado«), the fundamental principles of counseling are that it is: voluntary, confidential, and anonymous. The counseling is free and can be adapted to the victim’s specific needs. As a general rule, this third core area of focus has proven to be the most time-intensive for victims of right-extremist violence and crimes. Frequently, a year to a year and a half elapses between the incident and the court trial. If the attack causes post-traumatic stress disorder, the aftereffects can take months, if not years, to work through in counseling.

In a normal case the first discussion takes the form of open counseling. This gives the victim a chance to talk in detail about the attack they experienced and its aftereffects. The outreach centers gain an overview of the incident and its repercussions for the victim, which provides a basis for determining the actual counseling needs of the victim.

Especially important in the initial evaluation of the incident and the client’s condition are: the injured party’s comprehensive, subjective description of the incident; an assessment of his/her living conditions and his/her social and local environment; an initial evaluation of the imminent threat of danger, and the injured party’s psycho-social situation.

Each separate counseling process differs according to the injured party’s psycho-social situation, their individual resources and needs, the pre-established political climate in the municipality, as well as their identification with a social group.

Aside from those named above, counseling standards of the centers also routinely offer the following services:

  • Psycho-social counseling following systemic approaches to therapy
  • Psychological crisis intervention
  • Arrangement of psychotherapeutic support
  • Researching the extent of further threats
  • Information on legal situation
  • Arrangement of legal support
  • Companionship and support during the criminal and civil trials
  • Assistance with applying for (compensatory) damages

4. Providing Support to Groups Affected by Right-Wing Violence

In the vast majority of cases, right-wing violence and crimes target individual people. They often become the target of an assault, because the aggressor associates them with a specific group that s/he rejects. As a general rule, these groups consist of immigrants, refugees, people with dark skin, alternative youth or those who don’t identify with the right-wing, people of the Jewish faith, ethnic German resettlers from Central and Eastern Europe, and the homeless. Of course, the net of potential victims can be cast even wider. Individuals, for instance, who are politically and socially involved and who intervene in right-wing activities may also become victims of violence. Even in specific cases, where an act of right-wing violence affects one individual alone, the incident has a direct affect on a whole group of people. Thus, it must be assumed that victimization is not only personal, but often collective, as it may affect those who hear about the incident and possibly belong to the victims’ social circle. Experience has shown that the work with victims of right-extremist violence and crimes cannot stop at an individual level; collective effects of victimization need to be taken into account and dealt with instead.

As a general rule, counseling possible victims takes place in group discussions. Groups are formed according to the specific needs of those affected, where everyone is given the opportunity to discuss their experiences with discrimination, aggression and attacks.

Helping people help themselves: this is the final goal of the fourth core area of focus in counseling. It gives those affected a platform to share common experiences and to evaluate the level of danger in a municipality/district. They acquire the necessary skills to handle potential attacks (recognizing potential aggressors, their own behavior during an attack), and they learn about possible courses for action after an attack (conduct with the police, filing a report, promoting local solidarity).

5. Local Intervention as Prevention

Local intervention generally begins with a concrete case and is coordinated with one or more persons affected. Interventions are measures that aim to create community awareness for the victim’s or the victim group’s situation. The long-term goal of this fifth core area of focus is to achieve solidarity within the community for the victim and potential victim groups. This sends a clear sign to right-extremist groups that they cannot expect any local support for their actions.

With regard to the counseling of victims, local interventions require strategic planning. Courses of action and their possible outcomes must be directly coordinated with the victims in detail. The type of intervention strategy and its comprehensiveness depend on the specific groups that consider themselves affected (in the pre-established local context) and the team abilities of the victims’ outreach center responsible. An intervention usually comes into play when attacks begin to accumulate in a municipality/district.

It begins by creating an assessment of the local situation based on conversations with people affected, local cooperation partners, and the responsible Mobile Counseling Teams against Right-Wing Extremism (»Mobile Beratungsteams gegen Rechtsextremismus«). This assessment focuses on how the attacks are perceived locally, especially by the political functionaries. Consultation with the people affected helps shape just how these attacks are discussed in the community.

Local interventions span the following areas of activity:

  • Conversations within the social environment of the people affected (friends, family, neighbors)
  • Conversations with cooperation partners in the community (network centers, Mobile Counseling Teams, integration commissioners, alternative groups, church leaders, local political functionaries, etc.)
  • Organization of informational events and campaigns for diverse target groups with various partners
  • Publicity targeting local media
  • Publicity targeting the nationwide context

6. Publicity and Documentation

Outreach centers specialize in the area of victims of right-wing crimes and violence. Media representatives have recognized the outreach centers as competent contacts because of their unremitting local involvement. Increasingly, this is also the case for representatives in other academic disciplines who want to study right-wing extremism and victims of right-wing violence.

Specifically in cases where the outreach centers cooperate with the media, the centers consult the individuals affected for each step closer to publication and discuss possible outcomes with them in detail.

The outreach centers publish up-to-date chronicles of right-wing extremist attacks on the internet. This serves the public as an additional non-governmental information resource concerning right-wing extremist violence from the victims’ point of view. In the course of developing qualitative standards in the area of publicity and documentation, the outreach centers now summarize individual chronicles for joint publication.

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