STUTTGART — Very few topics are taboo in our society these days, but there is at least one subject people are reluctant to discuss: domestic violence against men. A Stuttgart pilot project known as "Save Men from Violence" is meant to offer much needed help to victims in this German city of 600,000.
According to police and aid groups, men are the victims in about 10% of all domestic violence cases. More often than not, these crimes happen in the kitchen, and the most common weapons are knives. Because women, not men, are much more often the victims of domestic violence, and because this issue challenges the notion of men being stronger than women, the topic can be a sensitive one to discuss.
The problem is that many affected men think precisely along these lines too. As victims, they often feel ashamed and remain silent. And if and when they do confide in the police, they are sometimes told that they should be able to deal with the problem themselves.
Though Stuttgart is trying to shed light on this troubling phenomenon, the city commissioner, Ursula Matschke, stresses that it's not their intention to downplay the effects of violence against women.
But, cynically speaking, people have become accustomed to violence against women. There are many resources for female victims. In fact, there are an estimated 435 women's shelters in Germany. By contrast, there are only three men's shelters. Dramatic experiences demonstrated to Matschke that men need more assistance.
Since 2001, the Stuttgart city council, police force, legal authorities, psychosocial advisory centers and children's welfare officers have worked together to curb domestic violence. That's how they collectively discovered that men were the victims in 10% of cases. In fact, it was a 2014 suicide of a male domestic violence victim that led to the creation of the "Save Men from Violence" pilot project.
He was in his mid-forties, married with two children, says project leader Jürgen Waldmann. Often in these cases, there are beatings, stalking and threats to take away the children. Physical violence is more common than most would think. But why, Waldmann often wonders, don't these men simply walk away from these destructive relationships?
It's because in divorce cases, a mother is more likely to receive custody of the children, even when she has perpetrated violence against her husband. Waldmann often counsels men who, as children, witnessed domestic violence against their mothers. Many grew into adults who resolved to be better than their fathers but who are ill-equipped to impose limits on their partners. The dysfunction devolves into violence.
Waldmann has counseled 14 men to date, but the city council expects a tenfold increase in demand as men learn that help is available.
Commissioner Matschke wants to convert the pilot project into a permanent service that would be unique in Germany. In the meantime, Matschke has already identified another taboo topic to tackle: domestic violence within homosexual relationships.