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Lack of space: Hessian women’s shelters have to turn away hundreds of people seeking protection |

Women’s shelters have been complaining about too few places for years. They regularly have to send people seeking protection away. The state government now wants to expand the offer. Experts believe the entire system is underfunded.

By Mia von Hirsch

Video post


03:24 mins

Domestic violence – what is the supply situation like in Hesse?


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In September last year, Jana (name changed by the editors) was advised by the police to go to the women’s shelter. It is too dangerous for her to stay with her violent husband. Jana turned to the Bergstrasse women’s shelter. There she was told that unfortunately there was no room for her. Jana had to stay with her husband in their shared apartment.

Moving to a women’s shelter further away would have cost Jana her job in nursing and was therefore not an option for her. Her attempt to find her own apartment as quickly as possible failed, as she tells the hr. In mid-November she couldn’t stand being with her husband anymore. She called the Bergstrasse women’s shelter again.

She said she could no longer think clearly; the situation at the time was very psychologically stressful. Less than a week after her second call, she got a place in the women’s shelter and the support she needed.

Demand for significantly more places

Too few places for women seeking protection – not a new problem. According to the Hessian Ministry of Social Affairs, in 2022 there were 426 places available in the 31 Hessian women’s shelters. In the same year the State Working Group of Hessian Women’s and Equal Opportunities Offices (LAG) sounded the alarm: They lacked 300 family places in accordance with the Istanbul Convention (see info box) to be able to offer sufficient protection. One Correctiv research According to this, in 2022, Hesse’s women’s shelters were on average 90 percent occupied.

The Bergstrasse women’s shelter alone was unable to accommodate a woman seeking protection 112 times last year, says Martina Evertz, the chairwoman of the sponsoring association. 135 children were also affected by these rejections.

Further information

Istanbul Convention

The Council of Europe issued the so-called Istanbul Convention in 2011: an international treaty to “protect women from all forms of violence and to prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.” The following applies, among other things: one women’s shelter per region and one family place per 10,000 residents.

According to this calculation, Hesse would need 639 family places in women’s shelters, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs. In 2022 there were 426, more recent figures are not available. The actual need is what counts anyway. In 2018, Germany committed to improving protection against violence for women.

End of further information

This means that the facility in southern Hesse is by no means an isolated case, as an hr inquiry to several women’s shelters in Hesse shows. Any rejection could result in those seeking protection having to stay in their own home with the violent perpetrator – without protection.

Several houses are being renovated and one is being rebuilt

It happened again just a few days ago, reports Evertz: A pregnant woman called the Bergstrasse women’s shelter, crying and looking for help for herself and her three children. But unfortunately they had to be turned away; there is simply no room for them at the moment.

In response to a request from HR, the Ministry of Social Affairs in Wiesbaden said that they definitely saw a need for more women’s shelter places. Barrier-free places are particularly needed. Five projects for expansion, conversion and new construction have been implemented since 2020 in Marburg, Gießen and Kassel as well as the Darmstadt-Dieburg and Rheingau-Taunus districts. A new women’s shelter is scheduled to open in the first half of the year. According to information, around 8.7 million euros in funding will flow from the federal government and a further 700,000 euros from the state.

Further information

Violence against women

Last year, the number of cases of domestic violence in Hesse reached 1,000 Crime statistics a record high: around 12,000 cases were recorded. This number has been increasing every year since 2014. Over 80 percent of the perpetrators are male and over 80 percent of the victims are female.

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Irme’s brother-in-law works at the autonomous women’s shelter in Kassel, one of the larger women’s shelters in Hesse. They are pleased that 14 new places will be added to the existing 32, barrier-free at that. That’s still not enough, but it’s a big gain and a relief.

Because of bureaucratic hurdles, it wasn’t easy to get the funding, says Schwager. Overall, this only worked sporadically, reports Birte Prawdzik from the Wiesbaden women’s shelter, spokeswoman for the ten women’s shelters in Hesse. In addition, according to the Hessian Ministry of Social Affairs, the federal investment program will not be extended after the current year.

Hesse has increased the budget for women’s shelters

The sociologist Stella Schäfer from the Goethe University Frankfurt has researched the Hessian women’s shelters and finds: More needs to happen. It would be good if more places were built. However, it is also necessary to train staff in women’s shelters and the support network, for example in the police, in offices and among doctors, as well as long-term financing.

The financing of women’s shelter places is not uniformly regulated in Germany. The federal states decide how much money they want to spend on women’s shelters. In Hesse, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs, this is around 7.5 million euros this year, almost two million euros more than at the beginning of the last legislative period. But this money does not necessarily mean that women can afford the services offered by a women’s shelter.

Audio contribution


02:52 mins

Lack of space in Hessian women’s shelters

A woman sits on a sofa, rubbing her hands, another woman sits on an armchair with a writing pad on her lap

End of audio contribution

“In fact, it is currently the case that those affected by violence have to pay for the places themselves – unless they can apply for a citizen’s allowance,” says sociologist Schäfer. This would cover the costs of women’s shelters, but the system excludes certain groups who are not entitled to citizen’s benefit, including students, pensioners and EU citizens.

Expert: The system has to change

For Schäfer it is clear: the system has to change. So far, the costs of accommodation have been decided on a case-by-case basis. In addition, women’s shelters would have to collect part of their operating costs through donations.

Irme’s brother-in-law from the Kassel women’s shelter is upset about this regulation. The women were looking for anonymous protection from danger to life and limb and would have to pay for this service with their assets. “This is not an achievement, this is a human right that women exercise: protection from violence,” emphasizes Schwager.

Schwager and Birte Prawdzik from the Wiesbaden women’s shelter also criticize a financial pot for the costs of interpreters that cannot be used at the moment. Many women needed support through translation, for example with legal matters.

Criticism of bureaucratic hurdles

The idea of ​​a language training program is great, says Prawdzik. But here too, the bureaucratic hurdles were too high. The funds were approved at the beginning of December last year, but could not be transferred to 2024; instead, the women’s shelters would have had to pay them back. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, work is currently underway to make the money accessible for this year.

The Ministry of Social Affairs told the hr that the state government is in continuous communication with representatives of women’s shelters about current challenges. When asked by HR, representatives of several women’s shelters said that no one from Wiesbaden had contacted them yet.

Further information

Broadcast: hr- Fernsehen, hessenschau, April 29, 2024, 7:30 p.m

End of further information


hessenschau update – The newsletter for Hesse

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