The many faces of learned violence

Domestic violence largely affects women. In 2020, 20,587 victims of domestic violence were cared for by violence protection centers and intervention centers in Austria. Around 82 percent of those supported were women and girls, and around 91 percent of those at risk were men. Every fifth woman in Austria has experienced physical and / or sexual violence since she was 15, and every third woman has experienced sexual harassment. However, it is assumed that the number of unreported cases is even higher. On average, more than two women per month died from their (ex) partners this year.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation for many women – this is shown by a look at the statistics on police interventions in the event of violence in the family. In 2020, the police imposed 11,495 no-go and approach bans, compared to around 8,000 in the previous years. If such an approach and entry ban is imposed, a person at risk is not allowed to approach the endangered person or their home for two weeks. The number of calls to the women’s helpline against violence also increased significantly in 2020 – by 71 percent in the months of March, April and June.

Violence that is not just physical

But violence against women begins long before physical attacks. A general distinction is made between structural and personal violence. While structural violence relates to the consequences of inequalities in the social system, personal violence emanates from individual perpetrators – for example, violence in a relationship. Often many forms of violence come together: psychological, social, physical, sexual and economic violence. Many victims also report a steady increase in violence.

Graphic lists the types of violence against women

Graphics: Schober

Violence against women begins with values ​​and attitudes – at the top are suicides and above all murder. The more the pyramid tapers, the fewer people are affected, but the severity of the violence continues to increase. Structural violence thus forms, among other things, the breeding ground for personal violence. The principle of power and control remains the same at all levels.

“Violence against women is an educated, socialized problem,” said Maria Rösslhumer, managing director of the Autonomous Austrian Women’s Shelters in an interview with As long as traditional role models prevail, that is the cause of the violence. Because as soon as a woman breaks out of this pattern, society – or the man – tries to bring her back there.

“Violence begins from the moment a person is injured,” explains Rösslhumer. Even looks and words can hurt, and violence also begins when someone does not accept a no. In particular, those affected often do not recognize psychological violence as violence, because women first define physical violence as such. “Systematic psychological terror also happens, and that is often fatal for women because they don’t know how to assess it,” Rösslhumer continues.

Power and control as the goal of violence

The stages in the development of violence, as illustrated in the violence pyramid, offer an orientation on how violence can arise. “But not all women experience the same thing,” adds Rösslhumer. Alexander Haydn, psychotherapist at the men’s counseling service in Vienna, explains: “Murder in the case of violence in the family is absolutely the tip of the iceberg.” One reason why there are so many femicides is the role and position of women, and the environment is also very important to this. Even so, violence is not always linear or gradual. “Violence against one’s partner has a lot to do with devaluation and control, including economic violence,” says Haydn.

Anti-violence training programs therefore always aim to change the behavior of men. “We try to teach men alternative behaviors.” This applies above all to physical violence, which can be prevented in most cases by a training program. “But verbal violence is often left over, and that is a form of violence that is just as hurtful as a punch or a slap,” explains Haydn.

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Graphic lists the types of violence against women

Graphics: Schober

Graphic lists the types of violence against women

Graphics: Schober

16 days against violence against women

The international campaign runs every year from November 25th, International Day against Violence against Women, to December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Across the world, actions and initiatives raise awareness of the right to a life free of violence. Austria has been participating in the campaign since 1992.

The concept of the wheel of power and control illustrates how different forms of violence are intertwined in a relationship. “One form of violence is no worse than the other, they cannot be equated with one another,” explains Haydn. If, for example, the financial means are lacking or the children are threatened, this also explains why it is not possible for many women to separate. “A violent relationship is a long process. The women do not manage to break away, sometimes they are better, sometimes worse. ”Psychological terror and social and economic violence as a means of control often prevent an escape from the violent relationship.

Your own four walls are the most dangerous

A differentiation is also needed between the causes and forms of male violence, according to Haydn. In counseling for men, he always has clients who assert that they have never physically injured the woman or the children – but psychological violence over many years can also have fatal consequences. Violence – in whatever form – could escalate in a second.

“Nine out of ten cases, many men who practice violence in their families would never start violence in public with other men,” explains Haydn. That cannot be seen from the outside because it is not a question of physical contact. “There are many small building blocks that ultimately lead a man to kill, abuse, coerce his wife – in whatever form.”

“Violence against women begins at home,” says Haydn. In the biography of a man, it begins from birth. There is a high percentage of men who are not violent. But: “It depends on the social circumstances in which a child grows up. What a child is and becomes, we as a society have made of him. “

Role models instead of traditional role models

It is therefore important that children have people around them who act as role models. This also includes moral courage. “It starts with men stopping misogynistic jokes, sayings and jokes, not laughing along with them and taking part in violence prevention,” said Rösslhumer. The demand to start with raising children is correct, but measures are required that are already taking effect – such as being a role model for others.

That also applies to reporting. “The media help to protect violent criminals by conveying reasons for violence against women who are not correct – such as migration, jealousy, love or passion,” said Rösslhumer. “We all wish there was this one area or aspect that we start with and then the murders stop, but it’s not like that,” explains Haydn.

In this context, he too emphasizes the role model function that people should exercise for others. For example, if low-threshold offers of help such as the men’s hotline are accepted by (potential) offenders. “Every man who calls there can be the one who doesn’t kill his wife,” emphasizes Haydn.

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