What is a violent solution

Violent men are a social problem

The Bulgarian Veronika S. * has been living in a Berlin women's shelter for seven months and is happy about it. "I am grateful that this help is available," says the petite mother of four. She came to the women's shelter because her husband - after he started drinking - beat her and the children almost every day "and did other bad things" that she does not want to talk about. She endured the acts of violence for three years. "We didn't know there were ways to help," she says. It was only when her now 20-year-old daughter Sascha persuaded her mother to go to the police that the turning point came. The officials were placed in the women's shelter.

Veronika S. is one of an estimated 127,000 women who are victims of domestic violence every year in Germany. Around 16,000 of them find temporary refuge in one of the approximately 350 women's shelters nationwide. However, experts estimate the need for such shelters to be much higher.

Overcrowding in women's shelters

There are currently six women's shelters in the 3.6 million-inhabitant metropolis of Berlin with space for around 150 affected women and their children. These accommodations have been "continuously full" for years, says Paris Teimoori, director of the Bora women's shelter in Berlin. In the past year alone, she had to turn away 150 victims because there was no free space in her house.

Most of the women who are threatened by violence stand in front of closed doors on weekends. "Most tragedies happen at the weekend," says Teimoori. At least one more women's shelter with around 50 places is needed in the federal capital, estimates Uta Kirchner, managing director of the women's shelter association Bora, which is part of the Diakonie association. Then there would be the possibility that at least one room would always be free for emergencies that need a solution very quickly.

Those affected live in the women's shelters on a temporary basis: some only stay one day and then return to their husbands. Other sufferers stay for several months until they are mentally and physically stable enough to cope with a life on their own two feet.

Nationwide differences in equipment

"The women who come to us know what they are doing," emphasizes Teimoori. "But they are in a fundamental crisis of their life." A variety of approaches to help are needed to cope with such crises. The possibility of being able to live anonymously and spatially away from the husband is only a first step. The goal is to build an independent life. The problem in Germany is that the financial resources and the range of help offered by women's shelters are regulated differently in each federal state, says Johanna Thie, who is responsible for helping women and the Center for Family, Education and Engagement at Diakonie Deutschland. While those affected can live in the houses for up to eight months rent-free in Berlin, for example, women in other federal states have to pay their own share. Their income - or sometimes even the income of their abusive husbands - is used for this.

In large cities like Berlin, Munich, Hamburg or Frankfurt am Main, women's shelters are mostly overcrowded. There is more space in rural areas. However, there is a lack of qualified staff and therapies. There is a shortage of social workers, psychologists, educators or language mediators for women with a migration background at risk of violence.

Johanna Thie is therefore in favor of a nationwide regulation. "It would be good to have a separate federal law that gives those affected the right to protection and assistance in the event of violence," emphasizes the diakonia expert. But first a fundamental social change is necessary. The realization must prevail that violent men "are not the individual problem of women, but the problem of an entire society".

Veronika S. and her children have visibly done the months in the women's shelter well. She found a job in a small café, says the 41-year-old happily. Now she is looking for an apartment for herself and her four children. It's not easy in a city like Berlin, but Veronika is optimistic and full of energy. "It will work out somehow," she is convinced. Sascha, her older daughter, is also confident. She is currently applying for an apprenticeship as a saleswoman. Nobody knows where Veronika's husband and Sascha's father currently live. "We don't care. He should leave us alone," says the older daughter. Your mother nods in agreement.

* The names of Veronika S. and her daughter Sascha were given by the editors

Text: epd / Christine Xuân Müller