Interview with Michi Gosch and Susanne Pekler

To help break the cycle of intergenerational violence, the women's shelter in Graz, Austria, and the organisation NEUSTART recently started cooperating on a new project called "How to Recognize and Avoid Violence". We decided to ask them some questions.

Could you give a short introduction to your new programme with women from the women’s shelter in Graz (e.g. since when, why, who is doing the project, etc.)

The programme “How to Recognize and Avoid Violence” was developed due to different facts that we were seeing among women staying at the shelter:

37% of women staying in a shelter, return to the perpetrator. Half of them come back to stay in the shelter again, often more than once. Some of them return because of the same perpetrator, some of them because of a new relationship that has also become abusive.

Women, who experience domestic violence over a long period of time, are more likely to act violently towards others (e.g. their children) and research shows, that violence is often passed on from one generation to the next. There are daughters of former victims, who come to stay at our shelter, and sons of former perpetrators, who have become perpetrators themselves

Knowing all of that, we were looking for something to support our clients in the shelter, to avoid violence in the long run and also to prevent their children from experiencing domestic violence in their future life.

The result was this programme.

Who can participate in your programme?

Women who are currently staying at our shelter, as well as women who have left our shelter with in the past 6 months can participate.

How is the work with the women different to working with your perpetrator groups at NEUSTART?

Working with a group of perpetrators one has to first focus on their behaviour and in the following process make the perpetrators accept responsibility for their crime. We encourage them to look at it from a victims perspective.

Working with victims means to start with the situation in which they experienced violence and in the following process encourage them to think of situations during which they acted violently themselves – e.g. towards their children.

One of the most significant difference is that within a group of perpetrators it takes much longer to reach the emotional level of dismay, while women are more willing to share their emotions.

Where do you see similarities between the groups?

We use the same variety of methods in both groups, like:

  • Group dynamics
  • Body awareness exercises
  • Sculpture work
  • Theoretical input
  • Discussions

What are your tips for other organisations thinking of setting up a similar programme? Were there any particular issues of which you want to inform others?

We found it crucial to establish a set of rules (e.g. what can be shared outside of the group) with rather strong bindingness to show the participants that they can feel safe within the group and that their privacy is taken seriously.

How do you see the future of the project? Is this something you want to start all over Austria?

The experience of the ongoing programme shows a high acceptance of all participants, which means that we will definitely start a second round of courses. And furthermore, we intend to establish this programme permanently. From our point of view, we would recommend establishing it all over Austria.

Last changed: 04.02.2021