The women support each other in the conversation group organised by the social services.


Lise-Lotte Nielsen and Ann-Margret Fick lead the conversation groups.


"It's not easy to pick yourself up when you've been oppressed for a long time," says Veronica supportively.


Using the story about Johan and Maria, the group go through the various stages of the abuse.


The conversations take place every Tuesday evening for 10 weeks.


"I'm ashamed that I let my children go through that for so long," says Tina.
The Conversation Group
Ann-Margret Fick switches on the coffee maker while Lise-Lotte Nielsen lays out bread, butter and cheese on the table. During the day, the staff of Helsingborg’s social services support group have their lunch at the table, but this is Tuesday evening and the members of the conversation group for abused women are on their way in.

“If he beats me I’ll leave him – or will I?”

Lise-Lotte Nielsen and Ann-Margret Fick
Social workers who lead conversation groups for abused women, organised by the social services.

The conversations take place every Tuesday evening for ten weeks, and follow a strict agenda. The first part is mainly introductions, as the women need to get to know each other so they will feel able to tell their stories. Then they work through a number of subject areas. The police come on one of the evenings and a lawyer comes on another. Some groups have continued to meet long after the official meetings have ended.

This evening the discussion starts with small talk about colds, the rain and favourite cheeses. But Ann-Margret and Lise-Lotte soon lead the conversation into the viewpoint “If he beats me I’ll leave him”.   Most women who have not experienced violence are sure that that is how they would react, but would they?  Together we follow the therapists’ story of Johan and Maria who are due to be married. The evening before the wedding, Maria’s friends take her out for her hen night and when she gets home she is subjected to an aggressive, jealous interrogation by her future husband. Should Maria call off the wedding?

Linda pours some more coffee and says:
“I think I’d have gone ahead with the wedding.”
“I know I would have,” insists Tina.
“I’d have thought, it’ll never happen again,” muses Veronica.

The story continues. The couple marry, Maria becomes pregnant, Johan becomes more controlling and Maria grows increasingly isolated. One evening, he smashes a glass into the wall.  Should Maria leave Johan?
“I wouldn’t have,” thinks Linda, “not if I was pregnant.” 
“My boyfriend often used to throw things at me,” remembers Tina. “I was scared but I don’t remember thinking it was violent behaviour.”

 One evening Johan forces himself on Maria. Is that rape?

The control becomes more intense. One evening Johan forces himself on Maria. Is that rape?
“Of course it is!” say the women round the table, but at the same time they say that none of them would have reported Johan if they’d been in that situation.
“When he came home drunk, I never wanted sex,” says Tina, “but I went along with it, so he wouldn’t start an argument and wake the kids.”

Johan does not hit Maria many times but the threat is always there. Maria begins to blame herself when Johan becomes angry. When her injuries are visible, she lies to the people at work and to her family. Her life becomes increasingly restricted. The women round the table recognise themselves in her story.
“I stopped going out for lunch with my male colleagues,” says Linda. “Supposing he saw me in a car with another man? There would be never-ending interrogations.”
“When I was home on maternity leave he wanted to talk to me on Skype three-four times a day,” Tina tells us. “Calling wasn’t enough. He said he wanted to see the babies, but really he was just checking that I was at home, and not out “meeting other men”.”

Ann-Margret tells us about another woman, who was forced to show the receipt every time she bought something, both so that her husband could check that she had not bought anything “unnecessary” and so that she could prove, with the help of the receipts, that she had gone straight home after shopping.
The women sitting round the table are agreed that the fictional Maria should leave Johan. But it is not easy, even for someone who is convinced.

The women sitting round the table are agreed that the fictional Maria should leave Johan. But it is not easy, even for someone who is convinced.

“I thought, the children need their father,” says Tina. “Now I’m ashamed that I let them go through that for so many years.”
“If you’ve been oppressed for so long it’s hard to pick yourself up,” Veronica comforts her.
Tina has left her husband after 17 years, but she has still not told her family and friends why.
“There was so much to deal with when we left. I haven’t had the energy to involve other people. I’ve just said “It wasn’t working”. I don’t want our friends to have to take sides.”
“Of course they must!” say the other women. “You need support!”

Ann-Margret and Lise-Lotte have produced a flip chart and ask the women to make a list of the things that are important in a relationship.  The paper is soon full:
Laugh easily 
Family first  

So what kind of men have they lived with? A new column on the chart:

The meeting is almost over. Linda is wondering how she will react when the protection order against her abuser expires. Helsingborg is a small town. She is sure she will bump into him. The mere thought makes her weak at the knees.

Veronica is having trouble trusting her new boyfriend, even though she thinks he is really sweet.
“I have to become less prickly. I jump as soon as he touches me if I’m not expecting it. It’s not fair,” she says.  “He’s never hit anyone. But that’s what my ex said as well ...”

Marie, who previously led a hard life as a drug addict, but has now met a new man and is happy, makes an announcement just as everyone is standing up to leave.
“I’m pregnant.”
Congratulations and hugs. This is a place which offers much-needed support and understanding, to enable them to carry on.