What should I do when I have experienced or witnessed a crime?

  • Go to a safe place.
  • Call Emergency 110 or the Fire Brigade 112.
  • Do not stay alone; call someone you trust.
  • Secure all possible evidence; have your injuries documented.
  • Go to a hospital and/or the Gewaltschutzambulanz der Charité (Outpatient Clinic for the Protection against Violence at the Charité).
  • Record/write down the events in the order in which they happened.
  • Decide if you want to report the crime and file a criminal complaint.
  • Contact a Counselling Centre.
  • Reduce the stress. Do an enjoyable activity. Taking a walk or doing sport can be good for you.
  • Make sure you eat well, drink enough liquids, and get enough sleep.
  • If necessary, look for medical or therapeutic support.

The following is a guide on possible steps you could take after you have experienced a crime:

Write down the sequence of events as detailed as possible: date, time, place, who did what and in what order, what was said, what he/she was wearing, who stood where, were there witnesses, etc.

Sometimes it takes several months, even years before the actual testimony in court takes place, and during this time, your memory of the events fades.

Documenting what happened can help you restructure the incident when you are asked to testify in court. You can give the police a copy of this document in order to prevent giving an inaccurate statement.  This is advisable because you cannot review your statement at a later date without a lawyer.

Evidence matters particularly for the outcome of the court proceedings. That is why you should gather and secure evidence, for example, the name of the witness, documents, data such as e-mails, text messages on your mobile/WhatsApp, etc.

If you are injured, go to a hospital. Injuries should be photographed. Take note: Bruises/dark marks on the skin are only visible after a few days. If you have been sexually assaulted, do not wash, shower or bathe before going to a hospital. Keep the soiled underwear in a paper bag. If you suspect the use of drugs, for example valium, rohypnol (also known as date-rape drugs), freeze a urine sample or go to a hospital or medical clinic immediately as these substances can only be detected within a few hours.

Go to the Gewaltschutzambulanz der Charité (Outpatient Clinic for Protection against Violence at the Charité) for forensic examination and evidence. This means you will be examined physically from head-to-toe to look for injuries. Photographs of injuries, bodily samples and DNA traces will be gathered, documented and secured to be used as evidence in the event of a police investigation and criminal court proceeding.

Emergency Numbers:

Emergency Service: 112

Berliner Krisendienst (Berlin Crisis Service): +49 30 39063-10 to 90

For forensic documentation of injuries:

Gewaltschutzambulanz (GSA) der Charité Berlin
(Outpatient Clinic for Protection against Violence)
Appointments only by telephone, free of charge
Turmstraße 21, Haus N
Entrance: Left side entrance Haus N: Birkenstraße 62, 10559 Berlin
Telephone: +49 30 450 570 270
Website: https://gewaltschutzambulanz.charite.de/en/
Telephone office hours: Monday-Friday: 8:30 am to 03:00 pm

Do you want to report a crime or incident? Counselling Centres can assist you in making this decision. When you report a crime, you are informing the authorities (police and public prosecutor) about a crime incident. Criminal proceedings will start once you file a criminal complaint.

The authorities will then launch the initial investigation. Generally, you will not receive any information on the progress and outcome of the investigation. If this is important to you, please seek professional support at a counselling centre or from a lawyer as soon as possible.

In the case of serious criminal offences (Offizialdelikte) such as robbery and rape, the State has vested interest in the pursuit of these severe crimes. Therefore, withdrawing a criminal complaint for these crimes is not possible.

Some offences require an application for prosecution (absolute Antragsdelikte). These are mainly offences that are not considered very dangerous, such as verbal abuse/insults or trespassing. The police cannot take action and investigate the case unless the victim makes a formal request clearly stating his/her wish for prosecution. The formal request for prosecution must be filed within the first three months after the offence has been committed. The advantage here is that you have the right to be informed on the status of the proceedings and you have the right to appeal against the discontinuance of proceedings. Please seek legal advice for more information on your chances of success and other legal matters.

Other offences, which usually require an application for prosecution such as personal injury, are prosecuted if the authorities have a special public interest in the prosecution of the offence (relative Antragsdelikte). They can then initiate an investigation on an ex officio basis (von Amts wegen) even if the victim did not file a formal request for prosecution. The statutory time limit of three months does not apply in these cases. Therefore, reporting these offences at any time is advisable.

You can report or file a criminal complaint in any police station in Germany or online (only in German).

a. Required personal details

When reporting the crime as a victim or witness, the police will write down your name and address and include the information into the investigation file. You can also give an alternative mailing address such as your lawyer’s office or your place of work.

If there is evidence of a threat to you or a family member, your address can be kept confidential even during a court hearing.

b. Support person

As a victim of crime, you have the right to be accompanied by a support person while reporting the crime and during the police questioning.

A support person can also be excluded from being present during questioning if the officer/public prosecutor considers the support person is unreasonably interfering with the questioning.

You should therefore inform the officer in charge by phone that you wish for the presence of a support person before the police questioning.

c. Police questioning

During questionings, the police must examine all aspects that would either help to confirm or rule out criminal charges.

Victims of a crime are often entitled to compensation under the Victims Compensation Act (Opferentschädigungsgesetz). Ask for an application for compensation when you report the crime or during questioning.

If you receive a summons from the police, you do not have to appear or give a statement as an injured party or witness at a police station. It is voluntary.

However: The police can make a formal request for your appearance at the public prosecutor’s office or the court. This does not often happen but when it does, the rules are much stricter; you MUST appear for questioning. It is mandatory.

Absences without a valid excuse can have far-reaching consequences such as legal fines/penalties or the public prosecutor or court may issue a warrant to the police to pick you up for questioning.

If you are too ill to appear, you have to contact the person who sent the summons and send a medical certificate (ärztliches Attest) that explains and certifies your inability to make a statement or testify due to illness. A sick note (Krankschreibung) as is the case for employees is not sufficient!

A planned holiday/vacation is not a valid excuse either. For clarification, contact the officer in charge in advance.

Starting from the beginning of the investigation, you as an injured party or witness may have the right to refuse to be questioned (Zeugnisverweigerungsrecht). The officer in charge must inform you of your rights before questioning; for example, you always have the right against self-incrimination which means you are not required to give evidence against yourself. If the suspect is a close relative, such as parents, children or spouses, you cannot be made to testify against him/her.

Interpreter: If you hardly or do not speak German or use sign language, the police must provide an appropriately qualified interpreter free of charge.

As soon as the public prosecutor has completed the investigation, the public prosecutor will decide whether to discontinue the proceedings or to file charges and bring the case to court for an assessment. The court will then determine whether or not the prosecutor should proceed with the case. When the court believes there are “sufficient grounds” (enough evidence) for the case to be heard, it will advance the case to the main proceedings (court trial). The procedure, from reporting a crime up to the court’s decision to open the main proceedings, can sometimes take many months.

At the main proceedings, all the evidence will be examined and presented at the trial. It is on the basis of the evidence that the court will decide if there will be an acquittal (verdict of not guilty) or a conviction (verdict of guilty). The most important evidence at court is witness testimonies and especially victim testimonies.

a. Witness testimony/giving evidence in court

Every witness who is summoned by the court must appear and give evidence/testify. This is mandatory.
An unexcused absence can lead to fines/penalties or the court may issue a warrant which means the police may pick you up and personally escort you to court.

In addition, you will have to pay for the costs caused by your absence. If you are too sick to appear at court, you must contact the person who sent the summons and send a doctor’s medical certificate (Arzt Attest) that certifies your inability to make a statement or testify. Take note: A simple sick note (Krankschreibung) is not enough!

A planned holiday/vacation is not a valid excuse for your absence in court either; you have to show documents such as flight tickets, travel bookings (hotel, tours, etc.). This must all be clarified with the judge responsible for the case.

For many witnesses especially injured parties, going to court can be a very upsetting and stressful experience. Some are afraid of how they will behave and perform in the courtroom. The following information is about special measures that provide witnesses with extra help to make it easier for them to give evidence or who are being threatened or intimidated to give their evidence at court.

Witnesses who do not want to see the offender before the court hearing will be provided with a separate waiting area (a safe space). They can be escorted to the courtroom and back to the safe space upon request. A support person can also accompany them in the courtroom.

Please contact Witness Support (Zeugenbetreuung) by telephone in advance so that they have time to inform and support you before the court trial, and upon request, accompany you in the courtroom on the day of the trial. Telephone: +49 30 90143498

All witnesses have the right to be accompanied by a lawyer in the courtroom.

In the case of serious crimes such as sexual abuse and assault, murder, grievous bodily harm, the injured party can be permitted to act as a private accessory prosecutor (Nebenkläger*in) and have legal representation throughout the criminal proceedings from the investigative stage up to the court trial.

As a private accessory prosecutor, you and your lawyer have extended rights at the main trial such as the right to be present during the whole trial even if you still have to testify at a later stage of the proceedings. Other extended rights are the right to be heard, to question the accused, witnesses and experts, obtain information or copies of papers from the files, etc.

Please go to a counselling centre for advice if you are thinking of filing a request for private accessory prosecution as counselling centres have contacts with lawyers who specialise in this particular legal area. Click here for more information on your rights as a private accessory prosecutor.

Before testimony, all witnesses will be instructed by the presiding judge that they must tell the truth and that giving false or incomplete statements is punishable by law.

After the witness testimony, the presiding judge will then permit the public prosecutor, the accessory prosecutor, the defence counsel and even the defendant to ask the witness questions (right to ask questions).

It is possible to exclude the public from the trial in exceptional and duly justified cases. This also applies for having the accused removed from the courtroom when the victim or witness is called to testify. A pre-recorded testimony on video upon request is also possible in special cases, for example, child witnesses.

After testifying, the witness may remain in the courtroom to watch the rest of the trial.

The judges will leave the courtroom to consider and discuss the case, and to decide on a verdict; guilty or not guilty. The verdict and the reasons to why they have come to this decision will be read out in court.

Witnesses may be present in the courtroom when the verdict is announced.

All witnesses summoned by the court have the right to be reimbursed (to get paid back) for expenses such as loss of earnings, travel expenses and other court costs. A written application for reimbursement must be submitted.

b. Termination of proceedings

The court proceedings can be discontinued by the court or public prosecutor at any stage of the criminal proceedings if certain grounds/reasons for dismissal are met; for example, lack of sufficient evidence.

If you made a formal request for prosecution, you will be informed if the proceedings have been discontinued. As a person affected by a serious crime, you can make a request to receive information on the outcome or discontinuation of the trial.

People can be deeply shaken by stressful and traumatic events such as experiencing an incident of crime. They are often confronted by fear, uncertainty and disorientation, and their sense of safety and security is shattered. These experiences can cause physical, emotional and psychological responses such as anxiety, nightmares, insomnia and flashbacks. You may start avoiding places or activities that trigger memories of the event. Other reactions are social isolation and withdrawal, depression, aggression, irritability, etc. These are all normal responses to traumatic events.

There are direct parallels between physical and emotional injuries: In the case of physical wounds, plasters and ointments can help heal the wounds, but it does not undo the injury. As with mental and emotional injuries, speaking with someone you trust, consciously creating situations where you feel safe and secure, relaxation exercises as well as doing sport are ways to help foster the healing process. Just like physical injuries, mental and emotional wounds also need time to heal. They may leave scars, but these will fade with time.

Identify your limitations caused by your traumatic experience and accept them, thus enabling you to learn how to cope and deal with them.

Avoid sleeping pills, alcohol and other drugs.

Gradually get back to your normal routine but do not take on too much too soon; give yourself time. Structure your day with a regular schedule without overexerting yourself.

If it helps, ask someone you trust to accompany you on your way to places that can cause you anxiety.

When necessary, go to your doctor, psychotherapist or a counselling centre for support. This is extremely important if you do not feel any improvement after 6-8 weeks.

Be patient and be kind to yourself!

You can find leaflets with further helpful information on hilfe-info.de.