Meet Hedwig Wölfl, Director the Child Protection Agency “Die Möwe”

“Abuse occurs across all levels of society – it just might present itself with different faces.”

At the moment, Hedwig Wölfl has five children: three of her own and two from families with parents who are in higher-risk groups for the coronavirus. For most people, this would be quite a challenge. For her, it is a minor inconve- nience – that is, compared to her day job.

Wölfl is the head of Die Möwe, a child protection organization she has run for the past 12 years that provides abuse-related counseling and support to children and caregivers.

Of course, she’s been keeping a close eye on the statistics of domestic child abuse in Vienna and Lower Austria – the area the organization covers – but like all numbers corona-related, they’re hard to estimate.

“For now, the Dunkelziffer (“hidden figures”) are huge,” the 50-year-old Styrian said, clearly worried.

Die Möwe is an independent organization dealing with over 5,000 families, the largest of its kind in the area and funded by a patchwork of public sector, corporate, and individual donors.

For Wölfl, one of the most challenging aspects of making Die Möwe and other similar services available is the navigation required to find one’s way to the right organization.

“We have a very good health care system,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “But let’s just say that it’s quite diverse – a motley crew! Little gaps here and there make it di cult to get to the right place.”

Overall, however, Wölfl has been encouraged by the heightened awareness of child abuse is- sues, primarily thanks to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – passed only some 30 years ago, when Die Möwe was founded.

“Aside from the odd cellar joke,” she doesn’t equate scandals like the infamous Natascha Kampusch case, or the Fritzl family with anything particularly Austrian. “There’ve been equally horrendous cases all over the world,” she said, and is thankful for improved media coverage of child abuse.

“That’s why I’m happy to give interviews,” she said over Zoom – keeping a close eye on the frequent alerts popping up on her computer.

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