Are there orphanages in Great Britain?

Finally sleep peacefully in the women's shelter

An inconspicuous apartment building in a quiet residential area in Berlin: Nothing suggests that this is a women's shelter. This is where Melissa L. (name changed) has stayed after a true odyssey. The women's shelter Heike Ritterbusch tells her story as a representative: For months Melissa L. was on the run from her violent husband. From her home country, which should not be mentioned in order not to reveal L.'s identity, she came to Germany via Great Britain, Spain, France and Italy. Her husband managed to track her down everywhere, and the vicious circle of violence continued. Here in the women's shelter in Berlin, she and her little daughter are finally safe. "Melissa L. is doing very badly, physically and mentally," explains Heike Ritterbusch.

The operating association "Cocon" keeps the address of the women's shelter secret. If a woman who is looking for protection reports, she will first be directed to a neutral meeting point, picked up from there and brought here. The women who find shelter here have often been exposed to beatings or psychological abuse for months or even years, mostly from men close to them. The anonymity of the place guarantees them the protection they need from their tormentors. You should therefore not tell other people close to you where you are. If anonymity is violated despite all precautionary measures, the women have to go to another facility.

For 40 years, women's shelters have offered protection and help in Germany

A decisive decision

Melissa L. lives in one of the small, simply furnished rooms with beds, wardrobe, chest of drawers, and table. The women share the bathroom and kitchen together. 53 women and children can be accommodated in the Cocon women's shelter at the same time. 250 women and children are accepted there every year. Most stay between a day and three months. Then they either go back home because they don't yet feel ready to take the big step into a new life, or they have managed to build a new, independent existence for themselves with the support and advice of the 15 women's shelter employees.

There have been women's shelters in Germany for 40 years: The first was opened on November 1, 1976 in Berlin in a villa on Wannsee, and Cologne followed a few weeks later. Activists of the autonomous women's movement had campaigned for it. They had to fight hard for funding. Many of the women's shelters that were then founded in other cities in Germany even started without funding, some in occupied buildings, says Stefanie Föhring from the Central Information Center for Autonomous Women's Shelters ZIF. There was massive resistance on the part of the city administrations because the problem of domestic violence against women did not exist for them. In the initial phase, it was one of the main tasks of feminists to draw attention to the problem.

Simple rooms offer refuge for a night or several months

The struggle for recognition continues

Even 40 years later, the two umbrella organizations ZIF and Frauenhauskoordinierung, where the women's shelters of the welfare associations are united, still have to do a lot of lobbying work. Financing is still difficult. Only Schleswig-Holstein has a law for this, in all other federal states the regulations differ from municipality to municipality. In principle, the 352 women's shelters across Germany are underfunded, and the skilled workers employed there work under tariff.

In addition, domestic violence is still a social taboo. According to a study by the EU Commission, every third woman between the ages of 16 and 85 in Europe is affected by violence at least once in their life, in Germany it is every fourth. 42 percent of those affected suffer injuries that are medically documented. Up to 20,000 women are accommodated in women's shelters nationwide every year. Roughly the same number of women cannot be accommodated due to insufficient capacity. The number of unreported cases for women affected by violence is high.

Helping people help themselves

The EU Commission therefore recommends one women's shelter for every 7500 inhabitants. Within Germany only Bremen achieves this quota, within Europe the differences are even more striking: there are only a few women's shelters in the Balkans. The Netherlands, on the other hand, is very well positioned, with high security standards in the houses.

Works in the Berlin women's shelter "Cocon": Heike Ritterbusch

The women who turn to women's shelters in Germany, according to Heike Herold, the managing director of the umbrella organization women's shelter coordination, have few resources to find their own way out of the situation of violence. Around two thirds have a migration background, and some need interpreters to make themselves understood. Melissa L. is one of them. Nevertheless, she is about to move out of the facility and into her own apartment. She lived in the Cocon women's shelter for a year. Heike Ritterbusch tells us that she is still very bruised from the previous experiences, but now she feels ready to stand on her own two feet.