The Challenges of a Mixed Marriage Amplified by Structural Violence and Corrupt Institutions

What Happened? Historical Background to the Conflict

On June 6, 2012 at around 8:15 PM, Virginia, a woman from a French speaking African country and mother of four children, orchestrated a scene of domestic violence after having received prior guidance from employees of various institutions, namely Office for Youth and Families (‘Jugendamt’), Shelter for Abused Women (‘Frauenhaus’) and Office for Intervention Against Domestic Violence (‘Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt in der Familie’). Virginia threw the plate with Marvin’s (= her husband and citizen of the Democratic Republic of ‘Disgustyria’, a state where ‘officially’ rule of law prevails and fundamental rights and freedoms are respected) dinner together with a carafe of water on the floor of the dining room and called the police using the emergency number. As Virginia was relatively new to Disgustyria (she moved there after getting married to Marvin in her home country in Africa just eleven months ago), she had only limited knowledge of the local language – hence, Marvin helped her with communicating the correct address to the police, as he was convinced that he hasn’t done anything wrong and that the presence of the police will help to restore normality in the house.

Upon the arrival of the police at the apartment, Virginia intentionally – following the ‘good advice’ received from the above mentioned institutions of Disgustyria – twisted her story and gave deliberate wrong details about the actual happenings to the police, i.e. she accused Marvin of having been aggressive towards her, including physical abuse/violence. As a result, the police instructed Marvin to prepare his suitcase within 10 minutes and issued a prohibition order for an initial period of two weeks, which had subsequently been extended to four weeks. Marvin had to hand-over the keys of the apartment to the police officers and both Virginia and Marvin had been escorted to the nearest police station for a detailed interrogation about the happenings. At the police station Virginia aggravated her lies by wrongly accusing Marvin of having pulled her hair and caused her a head injury.

Due to her limited knowledge of the local language, Virginia’s interrogation had been arranged with the assistance of a sworn French interpreter. It happened that Virginia wore a wick at this time and that therefore it was impossible to experience a head injury if Marvin, (the declared ‘aggressor’) pulled her hair. Virginia now changed her statement by explaining that she misunderstood the question of the police (‘forgetting’ the fact that she was questioned with the assistance of a sworn translator), as she doesn’t understand the local language and informed them that instead of pulling her hair, Marvin pushed her around in the apartment and she subsequently hit her head against the wall and now suffers from severe headaches and requested to be transported by ambulance to the next hospital for a detailed medical examination. The outcome of this medical examination was negative, i.e. the examining physician could NOT detect any of the falsely claimed head injuries – no visible ones and none supported by two x-Rays. The outcomes of these extensive examinations were negative.

Despite these obvious contradictions and lies in her statement, the prohibition order remained valid – Marvin was literally kicked out on the street. Virginia insisted to also leave the apartment and to be admitted in the Shelter for abused women who already offered ‘protection’ to her and her four children some days before, in case ‘something bad should happen at home‘.

Now – after close to five years of fruitless legal efforts and ongoing psychological trauma, Marvin

  1. has totally lost contact with his four children (two of them, Antonia and Alexandro, had been only six weeks old at the time Virginia orchestrated the scene of domestic violence) who do not know their father and who are forced to grow up as half-orphans for no reason(s);
  2. had been found guilty by the family court for destructing the marriage;
  3. has lost his well-paid job;
  4. despite his repeated efforts to have dialogue with his ex-wife, even through the intervention of ‘third party neutrals’, to find a mutually acceptable solution for the sake of their four children is being isolated from his ex as she is ‘protected’ by the above mentioned institutions, who do not allow any of such contacts and are therefore directly and intentionally fuelling the conflict;
  5. suffers from the obvious structural violence and wide-spread ignorance and inefficiencies within the legal system, which instantly declares men as the ‘aggressor and downgrades fathers to an ‘ATM Card’ forcing them to meet the undue high family support obligations without a remote chance for regular contacts with his children.

Each Other’s Stories – How Each Person Understands the Situation and Why

Virginia’s Story – He is the problem.

Position: I am a good wife and mother, and I am a victim of domestic violence.

Interests:

Safety / Security: I left my country in Africa out of love for my newly married husband and with the hope to be respected and treated in a dignified way as a woman having all her rights. I also hoped to offer a good future for my children. No woman should be subject of domestic violence and to have to fear for her life while being married to a man who turns out to be abusive. The rights of women need to be respected and I am happy that I found institutions in Disgustyria who are strongly rooted in the society and who are working hard to protect mothers and children from their abusive and aggressive husbands.

Physiological Needs:  During the marriage with Marvin, I felt like being in a prison. I was new to Disgustyria and not familiar with the local language and culture. I thought I could rely on my husband, which was not the case. My trust in him was based on his false promises while we still lived together in Africa prior to us getting married. For example he didn’t allow me to establish contacts with other Africans who lived here for some time already. Marvin insisted that I only remain at home, keep the focus of the role of ‘housewife’ and ‘mother’, which made me feel like a cleaning lady. He also refused to provide a basic household budget which I could use without having to ask him for basics….I was not even allowed to purchase a simple nail color myself. He also kept his salary secret. He was never nice to me and it was impossible to speak with him in a normal voice – he was constantly shouting at me and the children. I think he is a person who enjoys having a fight as opposed to establish harmony in his home and family. He is not a good father for his children as he lacks the ability to show emotions and understanding for their needs.

Belongingness / Family Values: It was always my dream to be a mother and to have a husband while living together as a family under the same roof. I also wanted to be part of an extended family, but as a foreigner and woman from Africa I always felt that Marvin’s family did not respect me as an equal partner. I think that his family is too conservative and narrow-minded and is therefore displaying a kind of racist attitude towards me. Hence, my dream of a ‘big extended family’ was broken from the very beginning.

Self-Esteem / Respect: I married Marvin because I was in love with him, and I was happy to get married and to move with my husband to his country of origin back in June 2011. I need to be respected as a woman and mother who left her country to live with the husband and who is confronted with all the challenges of an expatriate in a new country and complete different culture. I want to provide a secure and stable future for my children through good education which should help them to find a good job later. Also my children deserve to be respected – Marvin was not a good father and he abused them.

Marvin’s Story – She (her ‘character’) and corrupt institutions/structural violence are the problem.

Position: I want to be treated in a fair manner based on underlying facts – fundamental rights need to be upheld.

Interests:

Safety / Security: I need to feel safe in my house and my personal integrity as well as the integrity of my family need to be respected by government institutions, including the police force. In a democratic country people should not be victimized and severely punished as a result of baseless, constructed and certainly false accusations and lies. Men and women are human beings with equal rights and obligations….Starting a ‘war’ against men and fathers under the questionable umbrella of ’emancipation’ with the inherent notion that men are always the ‘aggressor’, and women are constantly the victims of abusive men doesn’t hold water and is far from reality. It certainly doesn’t support the idea of ‘equal rights for men and women’….

Physiological Needs: As a family man I want to be with my children on a daily basis to establish strong and lasting emotional bonds. Playing an active role in their lives and being a role model for them is something I hope for. I built a house for them and they should live with me, whereby their mother could certainly see them as often as she wants. Children should not suffer because their parents didn’t manage to live together in a respectful manner as husband and wife. I would never deprive my children of the much needed contact with their mother.

Belongingness / Family Values: I was born and raised in a small village in the south of Disgustyria in a family of five children. Christian values and the traditional understanding of a family, i.e. father, mother and children, are values which are found within the core structure of my personality. Losing a family through such orchestrated and abusive practices is devastating and personally shocking. My parents don’t even know their grandchildren….I am concerned about the psychological well-being of my four children, who need to know where they are coming from – it is their right to have contacts with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I feel that knowing their roots is essential for a healthy psychological development. What kind of (family) values will my children develop if they never had the chance to experience a true family and have to grow up as half-orphans? I am deeply concerned about the future of my children.

Self-Esteem / Respect: I need to be able to rely on domestic family law and a functioning system of justice. Fundamental rights and freedoms, including the rights of the child, are amply regulated by a) Disgustyria’s constitution, b) European Convention of Human Rights, c) UN Charter of Human Rights, d) UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is hard for me to understand why these provisions are ignored on an ongoing basis, and that there are no ways to enforce them. I want to be respected in my desire to play an active role in the lives of my four children. I want to have frequent and unrestricted contacts with them and I want to provide the needed financial support directly to them in every aspect of life. I want my words to be respected and recognized by all parties involved and that I am not declared and prosecuted as ‘the aggressor’, when all evidence clearly confirms the opposite. The facts need to be respected and the rule of law needs to be upheld.

Mediation Project: Mediation Case Study developed by Martin Harrich, 2017

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