Mediation in cases of domestic violence is not considered a useful intervention everywhere in Germany. There are reservations from employees of some victim protection institutions and women’s shelters. However, Hannover is well positioned due to its well-developed network against violence in the family with many support facilities. Waage Hannover e.V. is part of this network and has been carrying out victim-offender mediation in cases of domestic violence for over 20 years.

For a long time the issue of domestic violence received little or no attention from police and legal practitioners; there was no appetite to prosecute such cases through the criminal justice system. Women, victimised in such cases, were left unsupported and were often advised to raise a private prosecution through the civil courts — a course of action which most victims did not pursue. A common reaction to be heard during this period from policemen and legal practitioners was ‘each to their own.’ Fortunately, such attitudes and practices have changed considerably in Germany and legislation has been reformed. New developments across Germany, including Hannover, ensure that police officers receive special training in this area, and social workers are involved at a much earlier stage in the process. In addition, the Prosecution Service upholds the principle of prosecuting in the public interest in such cases. There is also a strong network of organisations dedicated to providing a range of interventions designed to support victims of this type of crime and provide better outcomes of which Waage Hannover e.V. is one of the most experienced organisations.

Waage Hannover e.V./Network against domestic violence

Waage Hannover e.V. (founded 1990 and also known as WAAGE) is a non-profit centre for mediation and restorative justice in the city and region of Hannover. The aim of the organisation is to support people to resolve conflicts and to repair the harm caused by criminal offences. WAAGE is active in a number of areas and offers help in conflicts between parents, families, colleagues and neighbours, and in conflicts governed by either civil or criminal law. After a complaint of a criminal offence has been filed, the Prosecution Service and/or the Court can request WAAGE to approach those affected and offer victim-offender-mediation. In addition, any citizen can approach WAAGE on their own.

Creating conditions for respectful dialogue and upholding the interests of the person harmed and the offender are central to a successful outcome.

During a victim—offender mediation, the consequences of the criminal offence are discussed in a safe environment. Conflicts can be resolved and mutual agreements can be found, i.e. reconciliation for the harm caused and/or compensation for any damage. Creating conditions for respectful dialogue and upholding the interests of the person harmed and the offender are central to a successful outcome.

WAAGE is part of an interdisciplinary network, HAIP (Hannover Intervention Programme against violent men in families), and works in close partnership with other organisations on these complex cases. The helpdesk/support centre plays a particularly important role: it directs women to relevant support agencies. The ‘Männerbüro’ helpdesk provides similar but different support to men who use violence. Often the person harmed is already receiving counselling and support from institutions of the network before WAAGE is brought in. This additional counselling support is of particular importance as preparation for a possible mediation. In order to support the person harmed and to ensure her safety before mediation starts, it is necessary to both mitigate the risk of a new escalation of violence (keyword: ‘Helix of violence’) and manage any power imbalances and relationship dependencies that may be present. Mediators need to attend to these matters in order to preserve the impartiality of the process. WAAGE cooperates fully and closely with the support services, ensuring women have the necessary access to support services so that they can make an informed decision for or against participating in mediation. Some women continue with local support during the mediation process. Sometimes lawyers are involved and advise women concerning their rights and requirements (for example, the advantages of obtaining a temporary restraining order).

About 80% of the couples who come to WAAGE for mediation are already separated, and about 20% are still living together. A lot of the separated couples still remain in contact, because of their children.

How are domestic violence cases handled at WAAGE?

Together with other organisations, WAAGE has developed standard operating procedures for handling domestic violence cases. Because of the intensive nature of this kind of work, only specially trained mediators deal with such cases. Normally the mediators work in pairs and mixed-gender teams. The following is a broad outline of the process:

  • Firstly, the woman harmed is invited to a ‘no-obligation’ interview to explore the advantages and disadvantages of a victim—offender mediation. Often this initial interview turns into an extensive consultation about relevant support services (such as: support agency support for women, women’s shelter, marriage counselling, alcohol therapy, social training services for violent men, child shelter services, youth welfare agencies) and other possible options.
  • The approach to the man is only made at the request of the woman harmed.
  • The parties themselves decide what type of intervention is used: a face-to-face meeting or indirect mediation.

Mediation can also take place indirectly through one-on-one separate interviews with each party.

It is particularly important for a successful outcome that the mediators remain impartial in cases of domestic violence.

It is particularly important for a successful outcome that the mediators remain impartial in cases of domestic violence. In these cases, mediators need to manage any urges to label or judge either party; they also need to demonstrate appreciation and fairness to both parties. Working in mixed gender teams and co-mediating are especially helpful supports for mediators to remain professional at all times. The underlying causes of conflict (the ‘fault’) are complex and it is naive to simply or solely ’blame’ the man. Each of the parties has needs and motivations that need to be explored and understood. It is crucially important that the responsibility for (physical) violence is not shifted or displaced. In this regard, it is vital that the man takes full responsibility for his behaviour and the consequences of the offence.

If the parties come to an agreement, WAAGE monitors its implementation. Often the content of agreements has to do with modifying behaviours along with requirements for compensation/reparation. If, for example, a man agrees to leave his ex-wife alone after their separation, WAAGE monitors the agreement for a six month period and, after a review meeting with the parties, will report back to the Prosecution Service.

The paramount concern in these situations is the welfare of the child.

A few years ago, WAAGE began to receive cases for mediation from the family court. The cases involved separated parents in deeply entrenched conflicts to do with, for example, child custody and the right of contact and access. The paramount concern in these situations is the welfare of the child. Sometimes there is also an overlap in such cases with criminal cases of domestic violence.

Which cases are handled and what are the interests of the parties?

The following combinations of themes can be found in domestic violence cases:

  • ongoing intimate partner violence;
  • violence as unique escalation;
  • violence related to marriage separation/relationship break-up;
  • permanent harassment of desired partners (i.e. phone terror, threats, waylaying, stalking).

From the perspective of the women harmed in domestic violence, the punishment of the man does not solve any of their problems: neither the act of violence nor the history were discussed, existing conflicts still remain unresolved, the fear of further conflicts and more escalation still exists. Sometimes the women also suffer punishment if, for example, the man receives a court fine, because the money is paid from a joint account. Sometimes the women want to avoid a long and anxiety-ridden lawsuit or they simply don’t want their dirty laundry washed in public.

Many women only want to have rest and peace from their ex-husbands; they want to be secure in their everyday lives and they want to finish their relationships with these men. They want their ex-partners not to phone or send emails, texts or gifts any more and to avoid those places where they might encounter each other. Sometimes answers to important questions need to be found, such as, ‘who owns what?’ ‘what will happen to the children?’ etc. Occasionally it is necessary to regulate things like compensation for damages or injuries. Sometimes the women request that the men attend for alcohol therapy or take full responsibility for their actions and work on changing how they behave. The outcomes of the mediation are monitored by WAAGE. Often there is another meeting after three to six months to review progress on their agreement.

The men who accept the offer of WAAGE to take part in a victim—offender mediation have different motivations. Sometimes they want to explain themselves or minimise their behaviour; other times they seek reconciliation, they want to apologise or they want to clarify things concerning the separation (i.e. right of the contact and access to the children, the distribution of possessions etc.). And at times they probably participate in the victim—offender mediation to be seen in a more favourable light and thus influence the court outcome.

In a mediation …, there is an opportunity not only to address the tip of the iceberg, but also to tackle the manifold underlying issues …

As can be seen above, there can be many varied motivations and interests for the parties in a particular case. In a mediation at WAAGE, there is an opportunity not only to address the tip of the iceberg, but also to tackle the manifold underlying issues which are not necessarily relevant in a court procedure, such as, background history, emotions, wishes, interests and the search for solutions that last long into the future.

What are the outcomes of the intervention/mediation?

Approximately 50% of the women accept the offer of WAAGE and agree to try victim—offender mediation. The others either refuse or do not answer the letter of invitation. If they participate in victim—offender mediation, then about 90% of the cases result in an agreement. The underlying conflicts are often very extensive and cannot be resolved in one mediation session.

The outcomes in cases of mediation in domestic violence are manifold. In cases of domestic violence within the context of separation, for example, the agreements of the parties at WAAGE include:

  • talking things through about the implications of separation;
  • moving out of the house/flat;
  • clarifying material issues, such as, finances, possessions, separation of property;
  • agreement about future contacts;
  • right of contact and access to the children;
  • compensation for damages or injuries.

If the separation was already fixed before the incident happened and the man did not accept the separation, other aspects come to the fore besides compensation, and the default of any contact in the future (restraining order).

Couples who stay together in spite of the violent incident come to the following kinds of agreements:

  • the accused person starts therapy (alcohol-therapy or similar);
  • the formal start of marriage counselling;
  • mandatory handling of conflict situations in the future.
If the parties accept the offer of victim—offender mediation, the success rate is quite high 90% of cases result in a sustainable agreement

Statistical data

Since 2001, WAAGE has offered victim—offender mediation in cases of domestic violence. This offer is optional and voluntary. 50% of cases do not result in an intervention/mediation, because the parties either do not answer invitation letters (ca. 20%) or they reject the offer for other reasons (c. 30%).

If the parties accept the offer of victim—offender mediation, the success rate is quite high: 90% of cases result in a sustainable agreement (compliance with the agreement is monitored by WAAGE).

WAAGE deals with approximately 150 to 200 cases of domestic violence a year; this is about 50% of the total number of victim—offender mediation cases.

Limitations and problems/challenges

It is important to state that mediation is not appropriate in every case of domestic violence. And the offer of extrajudicial clarification is also not appropriate for every client or case.

There are many sound reasons to reject a case for victim—offender mediation/intervention/mediation. For some women it is important to get an official sanction through a court decision; some women want the man to be punished; some want to wash their hands of the incident and give the responsibility to their lawyers. Sometimes there has already been a number of attempts at clarification or agreement and the women no longer trust their husbands or ex-partners, and further recourse to mediation is pointless.

In addition, there can be complications and risks that can prevent mediation from having a successful result. Some men do not feel responsible for their actions; they minimise their behaviour with phrases like ‘there is quarrel in every family …’) or they promise to change their behaviour but then they fail to adhere to the agreement. Some women are afraid of being threatened or intimidated again by their husbands if there is prior knowledge of the possibility of referral to mediation. Some women say their conflicts are already solved when, in fact, the opposite is the case. Sometimes the dependencies within a violent relationship are too entrenched that mediation is not possible or appropriate.

Mediation can always be an option. Mediation does not solve every problem, but it could be an alternative to the options in the justice system, especially in cooperation with other supporting institutions in the network.

Dr Lutz Netzig and Frauke Petzold are the co-founders of Waage Hannover e.V. Frauke is member of the EFRJ Training Committee.