This is a translation into English of the article “Die verschwiegene Gewalt”, published on 8 September 2016 in the Reutlinger General-Anzeiger by Markus Hehn. Because articles of this quality about men affected by domestic violence and the people who try to help them are a rarity I decided to make this article accessible to non-German speakers.
Advice: The Pfullingen (town in South Germany) psychologist Sandra Hermann supports men who have been beaten and humiliated
PFULLINGEN. The girls night is in full swing and the chick flick on tv is reaching its dramatic peak. With feverish excitement the four women are holding each other by their hands as the pretty woman is having a go at her husband. When she suddenly slaps the guy the women in the sofa scream in delight.
And while one woman quickly rewinds the movie for another round of fun the other three dig in to the sweets on the table in front of them. The scene ends with a cheerful off-stage voice saying »Always a moment to celebrate«.
While Sandra Hermann gets the commercial’s punchline she does not think it is funny at all. Just imagine a group of men roaring with laughter when a woman is slapped on tv, she points out: „Would we still laugh if the roles were reversed?“
Fear of being seen as victims
For the psychologist from Pfullingen the video is just among instances of violence against men being portrayed as admissible. In her daily work she witnesses men suffering from physical and emotional violence, happening most of the time in their own homes.
»Many men do not even seek counselling though«, she says, »because they are worried that they will not be believed.« The stereotype of men as the dominant sex makes it harder as well to admit to themselves that they are being battered. »At all ages men receive less help which makes them think they have to go through it alone.« When a victim does come round to seeking help and consults Sandra Hermann her first concern is to explore all options while being an active listener. Whether a police report will be filed or whether he will come to therapy with his partner depends on the individual case.
Hermann points out what can be done, »what will be done will be decided by her clients though« Her clients are generally 30 years and above. There is no upper limit though, neither when it comes to age, nor the types of violence with which men see themselves confronted.
This ranges from physical violence in nursing care to emotional violence in relationships and includes insults, such as »You loser«, threats, such as »If you do that you will never see your children again« or frequently monitoring the mobile phone.
Men’s counselling network
In order to be able to help more men Hermann joined the »Men’s counselling network« in April this year. Its website lists contact points that are free of charge across the whole of Germany. Sandra Hermann is one among three in Baden-Württemberg, who are offering these entry point consultancy services on a voluntary basis.
Since the other spots are in Karlsruhe and Heidelberg, Hermann’s catchment area from Pfullingen is substantive. It’s only the absence of publicity that keeps her from being overrun.
The importance of publicity
Hermann though works on changing that. Public outreach is a major part of her efforts. »It’s a top priority«, she says. In that the 42 year old is supported by Andrea Sautter. The lawyer heads the Reutlingen branch of the »Weißer Ring«, a German non-profit that supports victims of crimes and their families – that obviously inludes men.
Sautter – together with Sandra Hermann – wants to create public awareness for the issue of violence against men. »Even the people affected often have a distorted image«, she says. Practical actions include displaying leaflets at police stations. »That is so important«, Hermann adds, »in order that people know that they are not alone and that help is available.«
It is important for the two women to emphasize that this is no backlash against the services for women. They use the example of shelters to stress this point. While the roughly 400 refugees for women across Germany are publically funded the four accommodation facilities offered by the men’s counselling network are funded exclusively through private donations. Hermann and Sautter state that there are not too many services for women but too few for men. They would wish for more support on the part of the public authorities, but there seems to be a lack of funds and political will.
That is why not much research is carried out in this area. Conversely the lack of knowledge is used to justify that there is no need for domestic violence shelters for men. Argumentatively, a vicious cycle, Herman states with disappointment. The problem: »There is no lobby and studies are costly.«
At this point Hermann recommends a look at our European neighbors. In the Swiss town of Brugg exists a men’s shelter where public funding is working. Clear-cut figures are proof of the demand: there are 60 to 70 monthly requests.
Breaking a taboo
Sandra Hermann has mixed feelings when looking at the future. The topic of male victims of violence is still taboo. She knows that it will take time before the general public will become receptive to this issue. »I am hoping for everyone affected that things will change«, says Hermann. »Because as things are right now it’s all distorted and one-sided. But when people want to live together help can never be one-sided.« (GEA)