International Day against Violence against Women on 25.11.2023

Interview with Prof. Dr. Angelika Henschel

2023-11-21 On November 25, 2023, the World Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women will be held. In this interview, Angelika Henschel, Professor of Social Pedagogy, in particular gender research, youth welfare and inclusion, talks about her current work on this topic.

"The earlier we intervene," explains Angelika Henschel, "the sooner we have the opportunity to stop the transmission of violence, because violence is also learned." ©Leuphana/Eva-Kristin Rahe
"The earlier we intervene," explains Angelika Henschel, "the sooner we have the opportunity to stop the transmission of violence, because violence is also learned."
Prof. Dr. Henschel, what is your current research focus?
My research continues to focus on the topic of violence in gender relations, particularly intimate partner violence, with a focus on the children and young people who are also always affected by intimate partner violence and who are also victims of this violence. In 2019, I published the retrospective study "Frauenhauskinder und ihr Weg ins Leben" (Children in women's shelters and their path into life) with Budrich Verlag, in which adults were interviewed by me as part of qualitative research about their experiences as children in women's shelters and with regard to violence in their parents' partnerships. This study has also succeeded in bringing the topic to the attention of a broader specialist public and in ensuring an exchange between our universities on this topic in the scientific community, e.g. through guest lectures and visiting professorships in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
So when it comes to violence against women, there should be a greater focus on children and young people who are also affected?
Yes, children and young people, like their mothers, are also victims and victims of this violence. For example, it has bee shown that more children than women seek temporary protection, support and advice in women's shelters, as it is mainly mothers affected by partner violence who take it upon themselves to flee to a women's shelter and venture into an uncertain and difficult future for themselves and their children. Growing up in this kind of violence can pose massive developmental risks for the children and young people living in these families, as they are helplessly and defencelessly exposed to their parents' arguments within the family and have to observe or hear the most diverse forms and manifestations of partner violence and are sometimes drawn into the events themselves. This witnessing of violence, which is often not seen as a danger to the development of children and adolescents by other socialization instances such as daycare centres, schools and youth welfare facilities, especially as children do not turn to other adults for help due to feelings of shame and guilt, requires special attention and professional expertise.

Partner violence is therefore a specific expression of structural violence based on traditional gender relations, i.e. it is not just about individual problems within close social relationships in the private sphere, but also about child welfare and child protection issues to which our society must respond when we focus on the issue of domestic violence. In this context, a further problem can be identified, which primarily affects court decisions regarding custody and access rights, as the protection of women against violence is often insufficiently taken into account in custody claims. On February 7, 2024, I am organizing a full-day conference on this area of tension, among others, which will mark the conclusion of the research and development project "Children (living) in families with partner violence" and for which there are already more than 120 registrations. There is therefore still a need for further research on this complex of topics. In addition, there is a need for the further development and implementation of training and further education measures in order to professionalize the professional practice of specialists.
What exactly did the project look like?
The two-year project "Kinder(leben) in Familien mit Partnerschaftsgewalt" is a cooperation with the "Institut für Schule, Jugendhilfe und Familie e.V." (funded by the Heidehof Foundation), in which work was carried out to develop a training curriculum for professionals in women's shelters, schools, daycare centers and other youth welfare facilities. The curriculum, which was developed in collaboration with experts from various institutions (nifbe, women's shelter coordination office, Ostfriesische Landschaft, etc.), was then tested, evaluated and modified as part of two training courses. In addition, a seminar for teacher training for vocational schools with a focus on social pedagogy was developed for the master's programme in order to raise awareness of the topic among prospective teachers who will train educators in the future. The aim was to train and further educate specialists and teachers in the secondary socialization instances in particular so that they feel responsible for the issue of partner violence in the family context and are available as the first point of contact outside the family for children and young people affected by partner violence in order to act in the best interests of the child. Our evaluations have also shown that the professionalization of professionals that goes hand in hand with the measures we have developed, in the sense of increasing their ability to act in everyday pedagogical work, will enable child protection concepts to be expanded and resource-oriented approaches to be better implemented in the future.
What has changed since you began working on the issue of intimate partner violence?
The most important thing is certainly that, as a result of the second wave of the women's movement, the issue of violence against women was increasingly brought out of the private sphere into the public sphere from the 1970s onwards, in line with the motto "the private sphere is political", and thus also de-tabooed, because we know from studies and current statistics that one in four women in Germany is affected by violence from their own (ex-)partner and that a femicide occurs every three days. This is why women's shelters, which were established in 1976, are so important. Here, women and their children can receive temporary protection, feel safe and receive the support they need in this specific situation. However, there is still a shortage of around 14,000 places in women's shelters and the resources that can be used in the work must still be described as precarious. It was and is helpful that legal changes were made as a result of the political struggles, such as the introduction of the Protection against Violence Act in 2002 and the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the federal government (2018). With regard to the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, however, further efforts are still required on the part of the federal government, at state and local level. For this reason, the conference on 7.2.24 in our company will also focus on improving the implementation of the Convention, with a particular focus on child protection measures.
What more can be done in practice to help children and women?
More places need to be created in women's shelters. Child protection should be extended so that partner violence is also seen as a threat to children's welfare, which requires the family courts to be informed. The topic must also be brought more into the focus of educators and teachers, also in order to have a preventative effect and to prevent the intergenerational transmission of violence. This could promote the welfare and protection of children and ensure that their rights, including children's rights, are implemented, because if we succeed in sensitizing educators to the causes of partner violence, which can also be derived from traditional and asymmetrical gender relations, to the forms and dynamics of violence and the associated consequences for mothers and children, we can also intervene earlier if there is a risk to children's welfare. The earlier we intervene, the sooner we have the opportunity to stop the transmission of violence, because violence is also learned.
Thank you very much!

Angelika Henschel, who has headed the Institute of Social Work and Social Pedagogy since 2016 and the part-time Bachelor of Social Work course at the Professional School since 2012, has received several awards for her academic work and social commitment - including the Leuphana Teaching Award, the Leuphana Prize for Gender and Diversity Research and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. As a proven expert on gender issues, she is in demand nationally and internationally and spent a research semester at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney in 2021, gave guest lectures at Monash University Melbourne and Melbourne University and was a visiting professor at Western Sydney University in February and March this year. Her monograph "Frauenhauskinder und ihr Weg ins Leben" (2019) is now considered a standard work.