The women's shelter in the district of Erding is a catchment basin for women who suffer from a violent partner and seek refuge. We were visiting the place with a secret address.
County – Charlotte B.* is shivering. Rain splashes on the windows from the outside. Her gaze feels through the as yet unfamiliar space. Locked kitchen cabinets with locks and numbers: Room 1, Room 2, Room 3. A large wooden table, twelve people can easily be accommodated here. In the next room, the TV is quietly running, in front of it a wide sofa. No one is watching. Luxury looks different. And yet luxury is the word that goes through Charlotte B.'s head. Because that's how she feels about being allowed to be here. In safety. Her luxury means being protected from her violent husband.
This protection is offered to her by the women's shelter in the district of Erding, operated by the BRK. Five women can find shelter here with their children. Five bedrooms, a kitchen, a games room, the TV room, two bathrooms, a toilet, a large garden. Women from all over Germany live here. The address of the house is secret, the danger that a brutal ex-partner will ambush his wife or children is too great.
Refuge in the women's shelter of the BRK Erding: Too few places
There are 389 places for women and their children throughout Bavaria. Far too few, says an employee who is not allowed to reveal her name to protect the residents. "When we report that we have a room available, the first request comes after ten minutes at the latest," she reports.
The women's shelters are coordinated in a nationwide network, on www.frauenhaus-suche.de the currently available places are displayed. Actually, all of them are always occupied. Of women who have no alternative to flee from their partner. "We are a catchment basin," says the social worker. "If you still have someone, a friend or family, you first seek refuge there. Only those who are completely alone end up here."
In 2022, 25 women and 21 children were accommodated in the women's shelter of the BRK Erding. The average stay was 64 nights. On the other hand, 86 requests had to be cancelled due to lack of space. The on-call service was on duty for 6760 hours. A large part of this was done by volunteers.+
Offering help (from left): Solveig de Riese-Lorenz, Anna Wierer and Steffi Irmscher-Grothen in the counselling centre of the BRK's women's emergency hotline in Erding.
© Uta Künkler
Two girls jump carefree through the common rooms. Four and two years old, perhaps. Charlotte B. observes how the older of the two proudly holds a self-made star under the nose of a caregiver. Charlotte B. has to smile imperceptibly.
And then she feels the huge lump in her throat. She thinks of her own daughter, who is currently playing with the kindergarten teacher of the women's shelter. Emily, who was abruptly torn out of kindergarten. And the night before, she once again involuntarily witnessed her father attacking Charlotte B.
"Even though many fathers do not touch their children, the consequences of the indirectly experienced violence to which they are exposed when the father abuses the mother are just as traumatic as actively experienced violence," explains the employee of the women's shelter. The mood of the mother, the smoldering fear, her panic, the aggression. "This must also be regarded as a threat to the welfare of the child." At the expense of the beating father.+
Bed, table, chair: The rooms in the women's shelter in the district of Erding are furnished with the essentials. Also there is a common area with games room and kitchen.
© Women's Emergency Hotline
Charlotte B. came to the women's shelter with Emily and her one-year-old son, the stroller, a trolley and two bags. A social pedagogue from the Women's Emergency Hotline brought them here. Everything happened incredibly quickly since Charlotte B. had found the courage to dial the number of the counseling center in the morning. And then she didn't even know what to say. "It's best if you come to us, then we can talk in peace," the friendly woman had said on the phone.
Charlotte B. had come. Had told everything. Everything she was so ashamed of and what she always tried to cover up. For the first time in a long time, she felt like she wasn't all alone anymore. That there was someone who listened to her and stood by her.
The police immediately expel the violent partner from the apartment. In addition to an initial ban on entry for 14 days, residence bans (e.g. at the daycare center) can also be issued. For longer-term protection, women can obtain contact and proximity bans in court by applying for protection against violence.
Domestic violence: Many affected women do not have a social safety net
Many of those who take refuge in the women's shelter are foreigners who have no social safety net in their new home country – except for the violent man's extended family. "They grow up with the conviction that they have hardly any rights as women, and are completely surprised when they learn in counselling that marital rape, for example, is a criminal offence," reports Solveig de Riese-Lorenz from the Erding Women's Emergency Hotline under the auspices of the BRK.
The friendly lady from the phone was Steffi Irmscher-Grothen. She is the head of the BRK women's areas and explained various paths to Charlotte B. in the counselling centre. Explained the way to the women's shelter on the one hand and the so-called outpatient options on the other. For example, filing a complaint and filing an application for protection against violence (see box). Then Charlotte B. and her children would be able to stay in their familiar surroundings and not have to leave everything behind, kindergarten, neighbors, the playground, the city, their home.
Her violent husband would then not be allowed near her. Initially for half a year, with the option of extension. That sounded good. She would need her own account, would have to apply for benefits at the job center, sue for a maintenance advance, look for a lawyer. "You don't have to do anything on your own." Irmscher-Grothen promised support. That sounded even better.
"But you have to be prepared for a lot," she added. The path is not easy. "Many men turn the tables in court. They try to explain the facts differently. It is often claimed that the woman is mentally ill and unable to take care of the children. There are outrageous rebuttals." The woman had to justify herself, endure unpleasant questions and reproaches, substantiate her statement, prove it, fight for justice. "It's a lengthy journey, it's not going to be easy."
The lump in Charlotte B.'s neck settled. She had the feeling that she was oppressively overwhelmed. The mountain in front of her seemed infinitely large. And she herself so helplessly small.
In safety from the violent partner: Seven attempts are necessary on average
"For many women, it seems easier at first to go back to their partner, that's the bitter thing. Especially since it has often pushed them into a strong financial and social dependency for years," explains Irmscher-Grothen. So it's better to go back to a life full of violence. And full of insults and humiliations. "In violent relationships, men deliberately keep their wives small," explains de Riese-Lorenz. According to the motto: "Nobody believes you anyway." The perpetrators play motherly love to the wall, threatening to take the children abroad. Or with murder, with femicide, says de Riese-Lorenz. "It's not from a Hollywood movie, it's happening here with us."
On average, a woman needs seven attempts to finally get rid of her abusive partner. Seven times emergency call, complaint, court, women's shelter. A martyrdom. For the wife and for the children.
Charlotte B. stands in the women's shelter and watches the trickles that raindrops leave on the window. For the first time, she dared to take the step of standing up to her husband. She doesn't know if she will manage to build a new life for herself and her children. In any case, the mountain in front of her is big. And the lump in the throat presses.
24-hour women's emergency number: (0 81 22) 5 53 77 91
* For the report, our author has taken on the role of the fictitious Charlotte B. in a role-play, whose story is based on that of many women in the women's shelter.