When love goes bad, many cases of violence go unreported. Here is how Vienna offers support for victims and families
Think of five women you know. Chances are one has experienced physical violence and two have been psychologically abused in a relationship.
In a 2014 EU study, interviews with 42,000 women confirmed that 1 in 3 women in Austria are psychologically abused and 1 in 5 physically assaulted by the person they call their lover, partner or spouse. For these women, the family home is not a place of love but a house of fear.
Domestic violence is not a private problem, but a human rights violation, as established by the Istanbul Convention of 2011, and, in Austria, a crime. There is no love in domestic abuse. There is only the desire to dominate and dehumanize.
Anyone can be abused
Domestic violence can happen in many different ways. It can be physical, ranging from pushes and slaps to punches, strangulation, stalking, sexual assault and homicide. It can be economic, where access to money is blocked or strictly monitored. It can be social, isolating someone from family and friends, or purely psychological, leaving the victim fearful, anxious, feeling as if they’re to blame.
Intimate abuse can affect anyone. It transcends cultures, countries and religions. It knows no boundaries of education, wealth, age, gender or sexual orientation. Children can be targeted too, and live in a home filled with turmoil and the constant threat of danger. Both men and women may be abused. However, women are particularly vulnerable.
For migrant women in Austria, the risk of being trapped in abuse is even greater. “If you don’t know the system it’s always more difficult,” said Frau S. of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Centre Vienna (Wiener Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt in der Familie), who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. Victims on a spouse visa can face “extreme threats,” such as having the visa revoked, also a form of psychological violence.
Where to find help
Victims of abuse don’t have to struggle alone. In Vienna, there are 24-hour telephone hotlines, such as Frauenhelpline gegen Gewalt and Frauennotruf, where you can find out what your options are, even if you don’t speak German. These services cater for many nationalities and languages.
There are also advice centers – at the Wiener-Interventionsstelle mentioned above and Wiener Frauenhäuser. Here victims can work with a counselor to find a path out of violence. “We offer them our support,” said Frau S, in services that are “victim centered”.
The police can also help. If they know someone is at risk, they issue a restraining order (Betretungsverbotes und Wegweisung) and give your details to Wiener Interventionsstelle, that will contact you to offer support.
“That’s the good thing about the Austrian system, we proactively call the victim,” reported Frau S., providing victims the support they need to make their own choices: “We always have women who won’t pick up the phone and we respect that. But it’s important that there are places they can turn to.”
Safe at home
So if you or someone you know feels unsafe, call the police. Police-issued restraining orders will evict the violent person from the home for two weeks, even if the victim doesn’t own it. All that matters is that you live there. The orders can also bar the violent person from the schools of children under 14. For older ones, a temporary injunction (Einstweilige Verfügung) is available from the district courts (Bezirksgericht).
These offer longer-term protection both at home and at places relevant to the victim’s everyday life. They also restrict how the violent person may contact you, if at all.
With a restraining order in place, victims can apply for the longer-term injunction. Still, Frau S. sees a gap in Austria’s protection laws for 14- to 18-year-olds, before a temporary injunction is issued, the violent person could still go to their school. Agencies hope for a revision in the law to include schools in restraining orders for 14- to 18-year-olds.
For some women, leaving home is the safest option. There are 30 shelters in Austria, with places for over 760 women and children experiencing violence. Addresses are not publicised, and men are not permitted. But victims with teenage children should be aware that some shelters do not allow boys over 14.
How to help others
Leaving a violent situation is not easy. Support can make a vital difference. If you suspect that someone is being abused there are ways you can help. “It’s always important to show that you have noticed and are worried,” said Frau S. If it’s a neighbor, she says, offer use of your phone, or to call the police. Or show them this article.
If the victim is on a spouse visa and hesitant to report violence, Frau S. has this encouragement: “The legal system is not perfect, but there are networks where women can get advice,” including about how separation or divorce may affect your right to stay in Austria. Often, domestic violence is taken into account.
Above all, remember that you have a right to be safe. “Violence should not be tolerated,” says Frau S. “Whatever your legal situation, you’re always entitled to be free from violence.”
Help and Advice Services
Police emergency lines
If you’re in immediate danger, call the police emergency lines 133 or 112.
The SMS contact is 0800 133 133. The lines are free to call and can be reached even if your mobile phone is out of credit.
24-hour domestic violence helplines
There are several 24-hour helplines where you can access advice and support. The number for the Frauenhelpline gegen Gewalt (Women’s Helpline Against Violence) is 0800 222 555.
Frauennotruf (MA57 24-Hour Women’s Emergency Helpline) can be contacted on 01 71 719
Frauentelefon provides free consultations about the legal aspects of marriage, divorce and child custody. You can speak to the counselors in English: 01 408 70 66.
fem : HELP-App for Android mobiles and iPhones contains detailed information about domestic violence and support services in your area. A password-protected section of the app allows you to store records of violence, by creating voice memos and uploading photographs.
Wiener Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt in der Familie: You can visit the center for counseling and information about your rights. Advice is free and confidential.
Wiener Frauenhäuser counseling center: the center offers in-person consultations. In Vienna, call 01 512 38 39.
Verein Fibel provides advice to migrant women about how violence, separation or divorce may affect their right to live and work in Austria.
Frauenhäuser Wien: If you feel that accessing a shelter is the right decision for you and your kids, you can call Frauenhäuser Wien on the 24-hour hotline 05 77 22.
SERVICES JUST FOR MEN
Männerberatung offers advice and counseling services on diverse topics, including relationships and domestic violence.
SUPPORT SERVICES FOR CHILDREN
Rat auf Draht is a 24-hour helpline where kids or their caregivers can talk to trained counselors about issues relevant to children and young people, such as domestic violence. Call 147