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Domestic violence: when the partner is the perpetrator

The facts about domestic violence are sobering. According to a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2014, 20 percent of women have already experienced physical violence by a partner. Eight percent have experienced sexual violence from a partner. Every second woman has experienced some form of psychological violence from a current or previous partner and one in four has been a victim of stalking since the age of 15.

According to figures recently published by the BKA, the police authorities recorded 141,792 victims of domestic violence in 2019 alone. Almost 81 percent of those affected by murder, manslaughter, assault, rape, sexual assault, threats and stalking are women.

Terrifying numbers. That is why we want to use November 25, the international day against violence against women, as an opportunity to draw attention to the topic and to clarify the most important questions. Especially since in times of Corona the situation has worsened for many of those affected, as Petra Söchting, the head of the "Violence against women" helpline, emphasizes. The number of consultations has increased by around 20 percent since April.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence means that violence is used in a domestic community, i.e. a marriage, relationship or cohabitation. It does not matter what sexual orientation someone has, whether several generations live in the house or just the relationship partner, whether both are still together or whether the community is / has just been dissolved or both have already separated.

Domestic violence does not necessarily mean that it takes place within communal living spaces. It can also happen on the way to work, in the city, with friends or anywhere else. Rather, the unifying characteristic is that a relationship exists, existed or is in the process of dissolving between victim and perpetrator. Most of the victims are women. If children also live in the community, they too are often affected by violence.

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Where does domestic violence start?

Most of the time, when you think of domestic violence, you think of blue eyes, broken noses, and bruises. But it goes much further. Domestic violence can also mean that the partner humiliates his victim, puts psychological pressure on him by threatening violence, ignoring, intimidating and insulting his victim, resulting in rape, abuse, deprivation of liberty and attempted killing or even an accomplished killing. Domestic violence encompasses all of this.

What does the law say about domestic violence?

Domestic violence is not a separate criminal offense. Nonetheless, the acts that take place are, of course, illegal and punishable. Finally, Article 2 of the Basic Law applies: "Everyone has the right to life and physical integrity. The freedom of the person is inviolable." As a rule, the individual penalties such as bodily harm, deprivation of liberty etc. are displayed.

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The spiral of violence

Relationship violence usually follows a classic pattern. Everything seems fine at first, until the partner becomes violent for the first time. This is usually followed by great remorse, the partner tearfully apologizes, plays down the violence, promises improvement. But the outbreaks of violence are returning and become more frequent and brutal over time.

The fact is, there is no specific conflict or point of contention that leads to the outbreak of violence. Therefore, the victims cannot avoid a dangerous situation. Because no matter what they do and how (in the eyes of the perpetrator) they behave "correctly", the violence will still repeat itself.

Ultimately, it is about power and dependency relationships between the two partners. And so the attacks become more and more massive over time. It is therefore a fallacy of many victims who persevere in violent relationships that things will eventually get better and the partner will change.

The suffering of the victims

The fatal thing: Many victims deal with the whole thing on their own and that naturally increases the level of suffering immeasurably. If only because of the fact that the outward signs of violence, such as blue eyes, bruises or broken bones, cannot be explained as the consequences of an "accident" for long. And so the women are increasingly isolating themselves - which of course is in the interests of the perpetrator.

It is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to protect their partner. You try to talk about violence nicely, believe your partner when he promises that it won't happen again. Because you want to - at least initially.

Often, however, women are also silent out of fear of their partner. "He'll find me anyway and then he'll kill me or do something to my children" is often a reason to endure the violence longer than is bearable.

20 percent of women in Germany have experienced physical violence from a partner.

Those who have children often shy away from destroying the family and stealing the father of their offspring. Some women are also afraid of being left alone without their partner and of having no apartment, no money and no shelter in the end. Others may not speak the national language, feel lost without their partner, or even be socially rejected as a wife who has left her husband.

The problem is also: Through the violence (physical and psychological) that the women experience, the perpetrators increasingly destroy the self-esteem of their victims. Women are ashamed of what is done to them and so lose respect for themselves. They see themselves as guilty. "If I had done what he wanted fast enough, he would not have freaked out." Or: "If I only do everything right, then he will certainly stop and everything will be fine."

The escape to the women's refuge is an important lifeline for women in need. First and foremost, it is important to get them out of the danger zone and give them protection - anonymously and securely. But in view of the increasing violence against women, the places in women's shelters in Germany are unfortunately absolutely not sufficient.

Why so many women stay despite violence

Of course, it is difficult for outsiders to understand that one stays with a violent partner instead of running away quickly. But there are various reasons for the victims to stick with their violent husband over and over again.

Fear of uncontrollable aggression from the partner can keep the women with him for fear that if he tries to break up he will go nuts and do worse to them. According to experts, a concern that is not unfounded: Women are often most at risk at the moment of separation. The partner who is abandoned is publicly humiliated by the woman leaving him and the abuse possibly becoming public - which the perpetrator wants to prevent by all means.

Many women are also tempted to believe their partner when he repents and tearfully promises improvement. The one who strikes and abuses is then suddenly extremely loving and caring. Worn down by the constant outbursts of violence and psychologically at the end, many women no longer have the strength to finally break out and free themselves from the dangerous relationship.

This is precisely why it is so important that, as an outsider, friend, colleague, family member or relative, you are vigilant if you suspect that someone is a victim of domestic violence. That you do not remain silent, but express your suspicions and concerns, offer the conversation and point out options for help. Women who are victims of domestic violence definitely need outside help in order to finally free themselves.

The very fact that the person one loves or has loved becomes the perpetrator leaves a feeling of deep shock and paralysis. The home, which should offer protection and security, becomes a place of martyrdom. The one who should be trusted becomes the perpetrator. It is understandable how disturbing this experience must be for those affected.

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When children are victims of violence

The bad thing is that children who notice this violence or have to experience it first hand often tend to become violent in their later life because they have seen violence as a conflict solution and they can constantly experience physical violence. It is not uncommon for these children to subconsciously seek out a violent partner themselves.

In addition, children can hardly deal with the violence they have to experience. They too are ashamed of what is done to them or their mother and isolate themselves from those around them. Often they also try to protect or relieve the threatened mother, which of course completely overwhelms a child.

Therefore, women should not consider taking away their child's father or home if they separate from an abusive partner. If they stay and try to endure the violence, they will only prolong the suffering for everyone involved.

In order to help the children come to terms with their experiences of violence, there is the possibility of specialist advice from youth welfare offices, support from trained staff in women's shelters, therapists or special trauma centers for children and young people.

Every third woman in Germany is affected by violence at least once in her life.

What to do about domestic violence

It is primarily important for those affected not to remain silent, but to confide in someone and seek help. And if at first it is "only" someone close to you who is told about your suffering or by anonymously turning to a help center. This is an important first step to get out of the vicious circle of violence. Because the fact that the violent partner changes should not be seen as a useful solution. Unless both partners do couples therapy together or the violent offender does anti-aggression training.

Anyone who is ashamed to talk to someone they know about it and would rather get advice or help anonymously can turn to various help offers and offices, in person or by telephone. We have compiled the most important addresses under the article for those affected.

In acute cases, you can of course also contact the police. Criminal charges against the violent man can also be filed here. As a neighbor, you can also call the police if you witness domestic violence. The police can also issue a temporary eviction or ban on contact and proximity. This should give the victims time to consult in peace and organize help.

-> Information about civil protection, rights and claims of victims can also be found here on the police website.

Women can also use the helpline number 08000 116 016 to find out more about a counseling or intervention center for domestic violence in their area. If you have to leave the communal apartment immediately, you can turn to a women's shelter in your city. Here you can also get non-binding advice and help addresses.

It is also important to make a note of what exactly happened when and to document the physical abuse, i.e. take photos of bruises, strangulation marks, broken bones, etc. A doctor can also certify the injuries. This is important for a possible criminal complaint against the perpetrator.

Important addresses and offers of help

If you or someone close to you is a victim of intimate partner violence, contact the helpline for violence against women on 08000 116 016 or seek help from the following advice centers:

Nationwide initiative: The website stronger-than-violence.de

Women's advice centers: www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de
Women's shelters / women's shelter coordination: www.frauenhauskoordinierung.de
Victim support organizations: WEISSER RING e.V. (www.weisser-ring.de)

Telephone help:
in acute cases just call the police on 110,
Telephone counseling on 0800 111 0111 or 0800 111 0222 (around the clock)
Weisse Ring e.V. victim hotline at 116 006
Help hotline "Violence against women", phone number 08000 116 016 (around the clock, free of charge, anonymous, different languages ​​thanks to interpreters)