Anti-violence training is usually a measure used for juvenile deliquents and offenders or as a probation service. In many cases, participation is mandated by order of the youth welfare office or courts and completed as part of the prison sentence. In some cases, schools or youth workers encourage participation in anti-violence training. 90 to 95 percent of anti-violence training is attended by boys/men and was also specifically created for them.
How does anti-violence training function?
Anti-violence training includes exercises and settings in which the client deals directly with their patterns of aggression and violent behaviour. In the meantime, it has largely been agreed that earlier (and widely marketed) methods using the so-called “hot seat” were sometimes based on false assumptions; it was not uncommon for them to cause highly problematic developments, because these methods use direct provocations, insults and humiliation to teach the participant coping skills for provocation. Such action is incompatible with a human rights-based approach. On closer inspection effects were determined which especially ran counter to the actual goal, which had led to these approaches being less often used in their original form.
Contemporary violence processing measures and acute violence prevention training proceed contextually and systemically and abstain completely from the use of humiliation and provocation. The goal is namely to enable young people to reflect on the deeply-rooted social mechanisms of self- exclusion and acting out anger and process this together in the group. At the same time, key personal competencies such as emotional control, emotional intelligence, empathy as well as personal reflection and relationship skills are strengthened and resocialised.
Different phases of work
A group setting is usually selected for processing violence and anti-violence training. In the first few preparatory sessions of the intervention a lot of attention is spent on allowing a climate of mutual trust to develop and building the relationship between the participants and the social therapist. For this purpose, it is necessary to be together in a way that is based on an open process, intense participation and is voluntary, where a narrative exchange of individual biographies and life experience can take place. One-on-one sessions often help prepare individuals for the challenging group work.
In addition to thinking together about the circumstances of growing up in one’s own family, talking about friends is also very important. What is essential for life with peers in the clique? What about those who do not belong and receive hostile treatment? What settings and resentments prevail? Are there any leaders/leading figures? To what extent do they behave fairly, violently or with scheming? Are there compulsions, compulsive actions or ideological compulsive thinking? What feels good, what is ambiguous? Who provides help there? From experience, when asking these questions – as with family issues – participants quickly reach topics of violence, extremism, fundamentalism and inhumane actions/settings.
In the background, there is very often experience of suffering from violence, humiliation and helplessness (especially in their own family) which needs to be addressed with experienced psychotraumatological caution and should not in any case be avoided. The absent, unavailable or violent father is often particularly important for young men – but also for women and girls – as well as a parent frequently moving or changing partners or with mental illness, drug addiction and excessive demands. Experiences of sexual violence/boundary transgressions is also not uncommon for young women. These experiences are also additionally explored in one-to-one sessions and their significance for the subsequent violence and destructive actions are discussed. These preparatory stages of biographical exploration are sometimes supported by a genogram structure or family photo work.
The basic attitude by which the trainer/social therapist is led is one of attentiveness which is simultaneously characterised by incorruptible questioning and analysis as well as personal attention and esteem. On the one hand, the participant’s behaviour and opinions are questioned critically, and the professional working with them takes a clear position. On the other hand, the participant as a person is respected unconditionally and valued and supported in their attempts to clarify and process their experience. These two different behavioural strategies hold no contradiction – for example, between an accepting and a confrontational approach. Rather, they represent two mutually dependent and complementary registers which, with careful adjustment and adaptation, can be used in the respective situation.
Therapeutic treatment of acute action sequences of violence and uncontrolled escalation is at the centre of this form of intervention. An exact reconstruction of the course of events in one’s own act of violence in the group or one-to-one proves to be a great emotional, intellectual and linguistic challenge for all parties involved. The aim is to understand and discuss in detail each individual steps initiated and committed in the act. Since personal boundaries are pushed to the limit, trainers do not use a provocative process but, rather, one that is very respectful of boundaries.
In addition, exercises for the perception of self and one’s own body are offered and skills for self-control in explosive situations are learned. They make it possible to accurately perceive the physical and emotional signs of the impending escalation of violence within one’s own self. This may involve emphatic gestures of distancing, rejecting and moving away from acute scenes. Evoking mental fantasies (e.g. about family, possibly the mother, beautiful places, visions of future goals) can momentarily calm the situation and prevent the outbreak of violence. These mental and behavioural exercises can be learned without having to use intense provocation training.
Further gender aspects and recommendations
There is no other place where the relevance of gender-oriented work is as apparent as in processing violence and in the work with emotional and intellectual backgrounds that biographically determine and acutely create violence. A male and female extremist or violent offender who is not also sexist and homophobic and is not characterised by gender issues that are filled with conflict and tension on a personal level does not exist. These topics always coexist.
Moreover, this is not only an empirical coincidence of character traits but, rather, conflicted mental dynamics in their own gender identity which are a key component of acute motivation for extremist groups and hate-oriented action. Because of this, very different forms of violent extremism – those which are rivals – are always equally directed against self-determined women and homosexual persons. Conversely, British crime cartographies demonstrate that those districts in which many gender-based conflict situations occur (which, for example, can be measured by the rate of forced marriages, honor-related crimes and the frequency of women’s and men’s houses), are also the same districts where there is a high density of militant extremist manifestations.
When processing violence in adolescent and adult women specific characteristics are topics such as self-injury, eating disorders and sexual violence which, although also recorded, is less common among young men (and therefore possibly more difficult to address). Another gender-related issue is the low social status young women have in many background which has led young women to increasingly attempt to gain recognition from the group by committing criminal and violent acts. Working with young women also differs in that that they often employ subtle forms of passive-aggressive provocation, which motivate others (young men) to commit acts for which they are not even recognisable as being the perpetrator.
Many more boys/men engage in physical violence than girls/women. However, women who engage in violence are also often overlooked by police and educators or are not taken seriously. It appears no one believes they are capable of brutality and militancy. Many extreme right-wing and Islamist organisations use this bias by strategically deploying women, also for acts of violence (beatings of left-wing oriented girls, transport of weapons and explosives, etc.). Youth welfare offices, the police and judiciary need to become aware of the forms of violence that girls/women engage in. It must be understood that the instigation and incitement to violence, verbal attacks, strong group-based rejection and hate speech and their spread in the context of far-right orientations and militant – religious fundamentalism are also an expression of violent behaviour and, therefore, would have to be more strictly punished.
Particularly for young women, institutions often provide anti-violence training in individual settings, not least to meet the low number of cases. Organisations that offer group training for girls have, in part, difficulties reaching their minimum number of participants. Since violent behaviour in women is taken less seriously and is punished less severely, female violent offenders have less external pressure for personal development and change.
In addition to raising awareness about forms of female violence in the context of right-wing extremism and militant religious fundamentalism, girl/women-specific anti-violence training needs to be offered more (e.g. in the context of family-oriented support/see field of work description). Training and individual assistance should connect strengthening the personalities of young women with the reflection of one’s own gender identity and existing gender conflict with ideological beliefs and the personal processing of violence.
Denkzeit-Gesellschaft e.V. (Time to think)
IMMA e.V. – Initiative Münchner Mädchen (initiative for girls from Munich)
ifgg – Institute for Gender-Reflective Violence Prevention, Violence Prevention Network