May girls be spoken to by strangers

It's still quiet in the Neustadt, except for school children and their parents or dog owners, hardly anyone is out and about. At 7.15 a.m., an older man speaks to two girls on Martin-Luther-Platz. You are on your way to school. The man offers the eight-year-old children to accompany them. The two girls do not agree and contact their school management.

Was the man just trying to be kind or did he have other intentions? Actions like this a few weeks ago are always in a gray area. "Speaking in itself is not yet a criminal offense," said police spokesman Marko Laske. Older people in particular would not mean it at all when they talk to children. Maybe they just felt reminded of their grandchildren.

But the police also urge caution. Of course, there are also perpetrators who have a clearly criminal sexual interest in the children. "Manipulating the genitals or exposing it in front of children is sexual abuse and, of course, a criminal offense," says Laske. The police spokesman does not give any specific figures on how often this "approach" occurs. "The number is in the mid-double-digit range every year," says Laske.

Tom Bernhardt, spokesman for the State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA), gives similar figures. For 2017 there were 34 cases, for 2018 29 cases in Dresden. He points out that the perpetrators are not always strangers. Experience has shown that the actual threat situation does not match the subjective feeling of insecurity. The crime statistics and scientific research studies show that only around 20 percent of the perpetrators are “strangers”, around 50 percent come from acquaintances and a further 30 percent from the child's family environment. “The danger for our children does not usually come from unknown people and does not lurk behind the bush,” says Bernhardt. The risk that children are sexually abused in the family, among friends and acquaintances or in a sports club is much higher.

Abusers known to the police or suspects who had no relationship with the child victim before the act committed primarily exhibitionistic and similar acts, according to Bernhardt. Only in very rare cases are children attacked by unknown people and severely abused. In this group of perpetrators, motivation is only partly about sexual satisfaction, but rather about exercising and experiencing power. "The abuse of a child is used to compensate for social failures in family, partnership and work," reports the LKA spokesman. The perpetrators tried to compensate for their mostly damaged or low self-esteem through the abuse.

The strong August

The police have tips for children and parents if the child is approached by strangers. The child is allowed anything that helps to draw attention to itself, such as screaming, scratching, biting or kicking, says Bernhardt.

But Veit Rößner, director of the clinic and polyclinic for child and adolescent psychiatry at the university clinic, warns against scare tactics. "Parents have to be careful that they do not trigger excessive fears in their children when they point out possible dangers that can arise from contact by strangers." and don't talk to strangers alone. The trick is to address the topic seriously, but not to stir up worries and fears unnecessarily, according to Rößner.

But if a child is harassed or asked to go or ride along, the best alternative for a child to get help is running away to other people in shops, practices or school, according to experts.

The “Bärenstarker August” project has existed in Dresden for ten years, which is dedicated to child protection and aims to help in precisely the same situations as the two girls experienced at Martin-Luther-Platz. “A lot has changed in relation to child protection in Dresden in recent years,” says project coordinator Annett Grundmann. The focus is on safety for children and adolescents. “The topic of prevention also plays a major role.” Various instruments, such as the child protection folder, are available to all schools.

The Saxon State Medical Association recently launched the child protection app "Hans & Gretel". This is intended to make it easier for experts to assess whether children are at risk, even when they are on the move.