If you break a girl’s rib she’ll grow 40 new ones.
“Maybe it was time to shoot a few men … ?”
Who: Hans Hansson
What: Started the men’s network in Piteå and runs treatment sessions for violent men.
At another kitchen table in another home, Hans Hansson, director of culture and recreation in Piteå municipality sat reading about the murder in the local paper. It was big news – naturally – but the news that a hunter in the region had been killed by a bear for the first time in 101 years was attracting more attention. Many people were angry and calling for all the bears to be shot. No-one said anything about the murder of Marie.
“I was so angry,” says Hans Hansson, “and it suddenly struck me how many times I had been happy to leave it at that, sitting at home at the kitchen table feeling angry. I decided not to be silent any longer. I wrote a letter to the paper and said maybe it was time to shoot a few men. They had killed more people than the bears.”
Hans Hansson, together with an artist, a vicar and a former ice-hockey professional, formed the nucleus and over 150 people came to the first meeting, in a room which holds 110.
That was the beginning of a fast-growing movement – the Men’s Network in Piteå. Hans Hansson, together with an artist, a vicar and a former ice-hockey professional, formed the nucleus and over 150 people came to the first meeting, in a room which holds 110.
“There were just as many standing outside in the street in the cold.”
The network has never been a formal association with a committee and constitution:
“We knew that we’d have the energy for a while, then it would fade away and die. The important thing was to make men talk about gender questions, and about the violence which affects women, in their everyday situations.”
It worked. In the sports movement, the schools, the unions, the housing associations – in every organisation in Piteå, people started talking about the violence. Questions such as “What can you as a man do if you suspect that someone close to you is beating or being beaten?” were asked and answered in many different places. Housing associations put up signs with the text “You look after the person you love” which are still in place around the town.
“The women’s shelter could barely afford to pay their rent,” Hans Hansson continues. “We challenged the municipality and said, “If we raise a million kronor in five years, will you match it?” We did, and so did they, so now the women’s shelter has a full-time employee paid by the municipality.”
The network was soon national news and similar groups were started around Sweden. 500 men took part in a national conference in 2005. At its peak there were 43 men’s networks in various places in Sweden.
The network was soon national news and similar groups were started around Sweden.
Piteå’s network lives on in other forms. The union club at Piteå’s largest industrial company still has gender issues as a standing item on its meetings agenda and Hans Hansson, who is a qualified social worker, has given up his post as a municipal director and now treats men who have a tendency towards violence.
“Together with a female colleague, I see men who have beaten or who feel the anger growing inside them. We do not work with men who have been convicted of assault. The Prison and Probation Service takes care of them. Some of the men we see come via the social services, others because their partners have given them an ultimatum, and some voluntarily.”
Treatment begins after three introductory conversations and continues for 24 weeks. They try to get the men to tell them what really happened, without making light of it, and to recognise the warning signals when the aggression begins to grow. Maybe they can go out for a walk, take a “time-out”, just think ahead.
“No-one has dropped out so far, but that might be because they know that their wife will leave them if they don’t continue in the treatment programme.”
These men carry a terrible feeling of shame.
One problem is that Piteå is a small town, and that because of his previous job Hans Hansson is a well-known person.
“These men carry a terrible feeling of shame. The thought of having to meet me, someone they might know, can sometimes be too difficult.”
For that reason, they have begun a collaboration with the neighbouring towns of Luleå, Boden and Älvsbyn. Therapists from each place will see men from a neighbouring town, so they can be anonymous.
Maternal deaths: 5 deaths per 100,000 births
Number of children/woman: 1.67 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion up to the end of the 18th week of pregnancy
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: On average 17 women are killed each year by their husband, boyfriend, ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.