A women’s shelter is not just a place that offers sleeping and cooking facilities. It is a place that offers women and children affected by physical, psychological and sexual violence protection, a place that can save lives and help them recover. A place of hope when all is dark for those affected. The Women’s Center in Wächtersbach is one of these places in the Main-Kinzig district and has been for 30 years. The Women’s Center in Hanau has offered protection, refuge and counseling for more than 40 years.
“Violence can take many forms. Many people think of physical violence first. But psychological violence and insults and humiliation are also part of it,’ explains Brigitte Machnitzke from the sponsor association Women Help Women Wächtersbach. However, moving to a women’s shelter is often not enough for those affected and their children, because a large number of ex-partners do not simply accept the separation peacefully. There is stalking and bullying, the ex-partner is being spied on: in the circle of friends, relatives, in the neighborhood or at work. It is a very stressful situation. Or it can happen that the ex-partner spreads lies about the ex-partner to put her in a bad light. Or the mother is mean to the children. Therefore, the addresses of the women’s crisis centers are not published.
“All this is a big problem for those affected and a big emotional burden, which adds to their current precarious life situation,” says Lea Kircher, who accompanies the women on their way out of the violence with Brigitte Machnitzke. Many of the women who seek shelter at the shelter alone or with their children are initially overwhelmed when it comes to coping with everyday life outside the usual structures. At the women’s crisis center they get help and support, for example with the necessary visits to the authorities and the submission of various applications. “As a rule, the women secretly leave their partners because they fear excessive violence in direct confrontation. So they come with very little baggage. The teams in the women’s crisis centers are prepared for such situations. It is important that the women concerned have the courage to take this first important step,’ says Brigitte Machnitzke. The women’s centers are therefore furnished and equipped with bed linen, towels and kitchen utensils. The women’s center in Wächtersbach, together with the one in Hanau, offers 48 places and several family rooms. “However, the demand is slightly more than twice as high,” reads Brigitte Machnitzke’s personal assessment.
The women’s centers in Hessen cooperate and use a website for this purpose, which helps to quickly search for vacancies, so the road to the women’s crisis center sometimes leads to a town that is further away, which can be of great help in case of an acute threat from the ex-partner. Common to all women is usually many years of suffering combined with an ultimately futile hope that their partner could change their behavior after all. “The women have had a bad time, moving out is their last resort and involves a lot of emotional stress. It takes time for them to rearrange their lives. In this phase, the women receive support and advice from us, and the children also receive psychological help, so that they can better process and sort through what they have experienced,” explains Brigitte Machnitzke.
A female crisis resident tells
One of these children is 17-year-old Anika (name changed), who has lived at the shelter with her mother and two younger siblings for a year. Due to the domestic situation with her father, who is addicted to drugs, the young woman has taken care of the family a lot in recent years and has also taken responsibility – also for her father. This was unpredictable, especially when he wasn’t on drugs. It started with alcohol, later it was cocaine and heroin. This father, marked by drug addiction, is frightening and alien to the children. But there was this other, dear and nice father, whom she wanted to help get rid of the drug addiction. So the daughter kept calling to find him somewhere in rehab, and he tried a few times to get off the drugs, but to no avail. The mother was frightened by the violent partner. Although the couple had long since split up, the father showed up at the flat one night in urgent need of money to buy drugs. He got so upset that he started smashing the furniture and he threatened his wife and children. Before the police arrived, he escaped by jumping out of the window.
After this incident, the family helpers knew that the family needed a safe place as soon as possible. A few days later, the mother moved to the women’s shelter with her children. Only now, months later, can the 17-year-old think about what she wants to do with her life. Because now she doesn’t have to worry about her father anymore, and she doesn’t immediately have any fear for her mother and siblings. “Of course we continue to worry about how our father is doing, whether he has enough to eat and whether he is warm and dry. We haven’t had contact with him since that bad night,’ says the 17-year-old. This is the best solution for you and your family at the moment.
The Women’s Center in Wächtersbach
Between 1992 and 2021, 1,322 women and 1,401 children were admitted to the Wächtersbach women’s crisis center alone. Some stayed only a few days, others lived in the facility for up to a year. “It also depends on how quickly we can find a suitable and affordable apartment and how quickly those affected are able to organize their lives again,” explains Brigitte Machnitzke. Since the remodeling of the shelter there in 2020, more rooms, kitchens and bathrooms are now available. The house has consultation rooms on the ground floor and provides space for group discussions. The furniture has also been renewed. In Hanau, an expansion of the places for the local women’s crisis center is planned. The situation for many battered women had worsened dramatically during the first Corona lockdown, as they were controlled even more than usual by their partners due to the spatial restrictions, making it significantly more difficult to contact the women’s shelter.
Social consequences of domestic violence and sexualized
Domestic violence and sexualized violence not only have serious and direct consequences for those affected, but also for society. The European Institute for Equality estimates the cost to Germany at 54 billion euros per year. These high costs occur in health care, in the police and judiciary, and through loss of work for those affected. “These calculations are based on the known cases, the number of unreported cases will probably be much higher,” assesses Lea Kircher. Therefore, violence against women and children is not a private matter: “It affects us all, and therefore we appeal not to look the other way when we observe violence in a relationship,” stresses Brigitte Machnitzke. The women’s crisis centers are co-financed by so-called municipal state funds from the state of Hesse and are also supported by the Main-Kinzig district, the city of Hanau and other municipalities in the district. But that doesn’t cover the costs, which is why the women’s shelters rely on donations to offer additional projects to deal with trauma.
Hanau city run supports the women’s shelters
“The Hanau City Run has provided reliable support for the work at the women’s shelters in Hanau and Wächtersbach for 21 years, which is a great help to us,” stresses Brigitte Machnitzke. Almost 22 years ago, women from the 1st Hanau running club, the Main-Kinzig sports district and the two women’s offices in Hanau and the Main-Kinzig district came together and brought the idea of the charity run to life. To this day, these are key players in the organizational team. The city run would not be possible without the many volunteers from the 1st Hanau running group, the work of the Main-Kinzig sports district and other support clubs in Hanau. The organization of the race is a major community effort. Loyal sponsors are also indispensable pillars of the race every year. The profits from the charity run directly help women and children affected by violence. Hanau’s Lord Mayor Claus Kaminsky and 1st city council member Susanne Simmler have again this year taken over the patronage, where the race will once again take place together on the street as usual.
“We are very grateful for any kind of support. Our charity run is a strong sign of solidarity and shows that our society is not prepared to simply accept violence against women and children,” explains Claus Kaminsky, adding: “Violence in relationships is never anything private. We must all be vigilant and watch together when we see signs of degradation, hurt and humiliation in our circle or in the neighborhood. This is the only way we can help avoid escalations and draw attention to offers for help in good time.” Susanne Simmler also draws attention to the great importance of the city run: “Anyone who supports the work of our women’s crisis centers invests directly in the future of people who ask for help in a very difficult life situation, so that the women can only see this future for themselves and their children again as an option. That is why it is so important that we as a society send a clear signal here.” The city run on Friday, September 16 from 5 p.m. on Hanau’s market square offers this opportunity. Registration is possible online at www.hanauer-stadtlauf.de. “Under the motto ‘register, be there, donate’ we look forward to many people , who after two years will finally participate again individually or in teams or support the cause with their registration,” explains the two women’s and equality officers, Grit Ciani (Main-Kinzig district) and Cornelia Gasche (Hanau). +++ at