Battered men jostle for space in crowded Danish shelters*

Posted by on Apr 7, 2012 in feature | No Comments

Battered men jostle for space in crowded Danish shelters*
Thorkild Vestergaard-Hansen,
the director of the Mandecentret

COPENHAGEN (AFP) – Battered women in Denmark have a multitude of shelters to choose from but men in need of a haven after divorce, losing their job or fleeing abusive wives have to elbow for room in just three brimming crisis centres.

Overlooking a canal in the picturesque Christianshavn neighbourhood of Copenhagen sits a red brick building with large bay windows: Mandecentret, the Scandinavian country’s newest centre for men in distress.

Inside the 650-square-metre (7,000-square-foot) building, the ambience is tranquil, with modern furniture, paintings on the walls, 12 rooms equipped with televisions and Internet connections, and professional counsellors to help men in need.

Two other such centres exist in Denmark, but Mandecentret is the first in northern Europe to offer professional help to men fleeing from psychologically or physically abusive wives or floundering after a divorce.

Fathers can also stay here with their children for short periods.

Three shelters for all of Denmark “is largely insufficient and the needs are enormous,” laments Thorkild Vestergaard-Hansen, who heads Mandecentret.

“It’s crazy that the men’s crisis centres don’t receive the same amount of subsidies as the 40 or so women’s shelters,” he says.

Winnie Bendtson, a counsellor at the centre, notes that the men are not usually physically beaten.

“But it does happen that women throw anything within range at their husbands, even threaten them with knives,” she says.

The men who seek help are often the victims of “very domineering” women, and some are “forbidden from using their own money, seeing their family and friends, forced to come home at a set time and locked out if they’re a few minutes late.”

Mandecentret was opened in September 2007 and is a pilot project due to run for three years, financed primarily by the state which contributed 12.5 million kroner (1.7 million euros, 2.57 million dollars) and some private foundations.

“More than 300 men have been helped at the shelter in five months. They learn to live again and adapt to the role of being a weekend father,” Bendtson says.

She and five other social workers help watch over the men, making sure they “go to work and don’t turn to alcohol or drugs.”

In the two other centres — Horsens, Denmark’s first men’s shelter opened in 1988 and Fredericia, which each have four rooms — hundreds of men seek help each year from volunteers.
Mia Lund, a student, and 10 other volunteers help run Horsens, located in western Denmark.

“These are real cries for help we get from these men, who are aged anywhere from 20 to 70,” Lund says.

Thomas Pedersen, an unemployed 47-year-old entrepreneur, has stayed at Horsens for more than three months.

“It was a shock for me to find out that the woman I had been living with for 13 years, the mother of my two daughters, didn’t want to live with me anymore,” he confides.

His ex-wife sold the family home, which belonged to her, and he found himself homeless. He ended up turning to the shelter.

“My situation was desperate and I wanted to stay in touch with my two daughters, Caroline-Mathilde and Marie-Louise, who are eight and six,” he says.

He notes that “a divorce is costly” and it is “easy” to turn to the bottle.

For researcher Kenneth Reiniche, the author of a report entitled “Man?”, most divorces leave men “in a state of shock.”

Contrary to women, “a lot of men don’t have close social relationships to turn to in the event of a sudden crisis. They are more socially fragile, they have a hard time handling a divorce,” he says.

He notes that men often have a hard time admitting that they are not well, compounded by the fact that they are surrounded by the myth that “real” men do not succumb to crises.

In Denmark, there are 15,000 divorces and 30,000 marriages each year, out of a total population of 5.4 million.
Copyright © 2008 AFP