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Violent men seek an alternative ‘til vold’

A team of three psychologists face violence head on

Men who abuse their partners get treatment at a small center in Roskilde to overcome their violent tendencies. 


By Rachael Vasquez

Peer Nielsen balls his hand up tightly and holds it in front of his face.


“I never use the fist,” he says, describing what he often hears from men he sees.


“Okay that’s great,” he drops his fist and shrugs. “But what did you use then?”


Neilson is a psychologist at Alternativ til Vold, or Alternative to Violence, a treatment center for abusive men in Roskilde, a small town outside of Copenhagen. The organization is part of a larger network of centers across northern Europe that got its start as the first center in Europe specifically designed to treat violent men.


Neilson says most of their clients don’t fit the stereotypical picture of an abusive boyfriend or husband.


“Very few [of the men] have a general aggression problem,” he says. “Nobody would think that they would have this problem.”


Neilson says when he first starts talking with a client it can be really hard to get them to speak openly about their violence.


“It’s very shameful for most of the men,” Neilson says. “And when you are ashamed of something you’re automatically being defensive.”


Stine Dalsgaard Jorgensen, another psychologist at the center, says when she starts seeing a client, it’s important to have a clear picture of how he and his partner fight.


“What did you do, how did you do it, what did your partner do, what did she say, did you guys start fighting the day before” she says.


This way, Jorgensen says, she can help the client start to understand how the argument escalates and what triggers his violence.

 Jorgensen and Neilson talk about how to de-escalating when you’re feeling angry: 

Dealing with the other half

Despite being set up primarily to treat men, Jorgensen says Alternative to Violence also treats about a fourth of the men’s partners.


Neilson says the partners come separately and see counselors on their own.


“We don’t want to let them think that we think this is a couple issue,” Neilson says. “This is a personal issue for the man; he’s being violent and he has to do something about that.”


Jorgensen says when they see the partners, they are often very alert and nervous, constantly checking their partner’s mood and trying not to provoke him.


Neilson says treating the partner on her own gives her the opportunity to get over some of the anxiety and psychological damage left over from the violence.


Jorgenson says most of the partners stay with the men throughout the counseling, but some also decide to leave.


The men also may decide to divorce their partner, Neilson says.


“When he stops being violent and all that’s left are the troubles, then he can start seeing her for what kind of person she is,” he says.


Neilson is careful to say that this in no way means she caused or deserved the violence, but that sometimes a client will realize he and his partner weren’t well suited for each other anyways.


“He has used a lot of energy trying to control her and when he stops being violent, some of the men recognize that this is not the partner for me.”


Treatment comes full circle in group therapy

Aside from one-on-one sessions with a psychologist, men at Alternative to Violence also have the option to participate in a group counseling session with other men in the program. Neilson says the group is really helpful in giving the men an opportunity to relate to each other and also to put themselves in their partners’ shoes.


“When one person tells a story the others recognize parts of it and can relate to it,” Neilson says. “Then [they feel] we’re not alone and [ask] what did you do and suggest what might be the feeling behind this.”


Neilson says that for the most of his patients, he can feel some motivation to make a change.


“Even the worst cases you can contact that [motivation’,” he says. “And then there is hope.”

Violence against women still disputed in Denmark

No agreement by researchers on study that finds Danish women face most violence in EU

A study found that women in Denmark face the most violence in the European Union, but a year later some Danish researchers still don’t believe it.


By Rachael Vasquez

In Denmark, the fight for gender equality is generally seen as fought and won.


The country ranks number 5 on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index (meaning women experience extremely high levels of equality), it has the second highest number of women in the workforce in the European Union according to the state statistics agency, Statistic Denmark, and the country celebrated the centennial of women getting the right to vote this year.


While American policymakers are still debating the merits of equal pay and maternity leave, Danish women enjoy 52 weeks of paid maternity leave after having a child and have been protected by equal pay legislation since 1976.


For those reasons and more it was a shock when the Fundamental Rights Agency, a European Union organization tasked with monitoring human rights throughout Europe, released a report in 2014 that showed 52 percent of Danish women have been exposed to physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15; the highest in all of the EU countries.

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 10.53.24 AM

Figure by Fundamental Rights Agency

LOKK, a grassroots organization in Denmark that operates shelters for abused women, agrees that there is a big problem with violence against women in the country.


One woman who didn’t identify herself described her breaking point in a short video for the organization.


“One day I realized I had enough,” she said. She had cropped red hair and a tired look on her face.


“We had a fight the night before, after he had gotten off the night shift,” she continued “I dropped my kids off at daycare and I just got in the car and realized I had enough. I went home, packed my bags and left for the shelter.”


Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 10.54.10 AM

Figure by Fundamental Rights Agency

Study rejected by Danish researchers

Karin Helweg-Larsen, a medical doctor previously at the National Institute of Public Health, has studied violence against women in Denmark for over 40 years and disagrees with the findings of the study.


Larsen says the figures should really be closer to 100 percent of women.


“Have you never been pushed in the street or insulted by anyone in a bus,” she asks. “I think it’s really ridiculous.”


Larsen goes on to say that most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face, but in the Nordic countries they were done by phone. She points out that the number of people who opted to participate was also very low in Denmark.


“If you find that violence is a very big problem for you then you might be more willing to answer questions by telephone,” she says. “[You might also say], ‘this is not anything for me, I’ve never been insulted so I don’t want to participate.”

Hear Larsen’s Interview:

Others defend the results

Inge Henningsen, a statistician who studies gender equality at Copenhagen University says that the methodology used by the Fundamental Rights Agency takes away much of the risk of different interpretations of violence by asking very specific questions.


“The questions are not about violence, the questions are about concrete incidences,” she says. “Being slapped, being pushed, being beaten.”


Henningsen says that then, out of the respondents’ answers, the researchers construct a definition of violence.


“Having your hair pulled is having your hair pulled,” she says. “You can think that’s a big thing or you can not think that’s a big thing but that’s not what you’re being asked about. You’re being asked, ‘has this happened or has this not happened?’”


Robin May Schott, a philosopher and senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, says that the lack of attention the study received in Denmark is problematic. She points to the high rate of labor participation and alcohol consumption as possible explanations for the high frequency of reported violence.


“Women are of course out and in the public and in the nightlife,” Schott says. “There is a very high use of alcohol and a correlation between alcohol abuse and reported partner violence.”


Henningsen says that the critics who reject the study don’t really question the accuracy of the Danish figures.


“What they say is, ‘the women in those countries, they wouldn’t call it violence because they’re so used to it in those backwards countries;’ that’s what they hint at,” she says.“I say if it is so, it is not 13 million women in the EU being subjected to violence; it might be 26 million or 30 million. The problem is much bigger.”

Hear Henningsen’s interview: