Domestic violence knows no barriers; it’s not endured only by those who are poor, it’s not a symptom of a specific race group and it can seep its way into the homes and lives of everyday people – like you, like me! Domestic violence is not a disease, and for society to overcome the stigma which has been suffered by those who have been abused, society must recognise the signs of abuse, and understand what the term -domestic violence’ means, as well as how to effectively offer assistance to both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence.
When we hear the fearful words -domestic violence’ we often think of women who are living in abject poverty, who have little education and who are, essentially, victims by choice, or victims of their own doing! We seldom think that victims of domestic violence are men and we also fail to associate affluent or educated women as being victims of abuse. Abused women are black, white, poor, rich, employed and unemployed – they are our neighbours, our sisters, our mothers and our friends!
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence includes both physical and mental abuse, and is made up of aggressive acts such as hitting, biting, shoving, slapping, neglect and continual threats of violence or threats of abandonment. The abuser or perpetrator controls his or her victim by withholding love, money, support, etc. and they endeavour to wear down the victim’s self-esteem and confidence, and will always try to gain the upper hand by attempting to restrict access to cash, or by preventing their partner from interacting with family or friends. Domestic violence includes acts of mental abuse by telling the victim that they are -rubbish’, they are unattractive and a woman or man begins to believe that they will only be loved by their partner – and cannot be loved by anyone else as they are not worthy. They are also made to feel that the abuse is their fault, that they trigger the attacks or cause their partner’s rage.
People who have not been affected by domestic violence or who have not witnessed the traumatic, far-reaching effects of spousal abuse often wonder why the abused woman or man does not simply leave, or enlist the help of the law to make the abuse stop. On the other hand, those who have been in or who are in a turbulent relationship, know that leaving is probably the hardest decision to make, as their abuser has, for years, conditioned them to believe that without them, they are worthless, useless and will be unable to function without them. The term a -love-hate relationship’ defines the very nature of a relationship where abuse and domestic violence is present.
The affects of domestic violence on children
Children who are raised in a home where domestic violence or spousal abuse is a way of life, will suffer from irrevocable affects and their chaotic childhoods will hamper their emotional development.
- Apart from the emotional damage that domestic violence has on children, kids in homes where abuse is present are at a far greater risk of being injured. The abuser will strike out and a child may be the unintentional victim of the abuser’s anger or outburst.
- Instinctively a child will want to protect their parent (either mom or dad) from abuse and this again, may lead to the child suffering from physical injuries.
- Emotionally, children raised in such adverse environments suffer from debilitating stress and suffer with severe headaches, rashes, and ulcers, along with speech and hearing problems.
- School-going children from a home where domestic abuse is prevalent are generally not able to focus on school work and are unable to form relationships with other children and tend to stay off school more.
- When boys witness a male’s abuse towards their mother (or a female), research has shown that they are at a far greater risk of becoming an abuser themselves, than boys who grow up in a loving and stable home environment. Girls, who are raised in a violent and turbulent home, are more likely to become victims of domestic violence.
- Domestic violence in the home will cause children to have low self-confidence, lowered self-esteem and during adolescence, these children are at a higher risk of abusing drugs and alcohol and engaging in sexual intercourse, in comparison to children who are raised in stable and non violent homes.
How can you help?
South Africans, for the most part, don’t want to be pulled into the troubles of others and we prefer to ignore the problem, hoping that it goes away. If you know or suspect that a neighbour, friend or family member is a victim of domestic violence – it is important to take a stand and call the relevant authorities. You may be under the misconception that victims have a choice and if they are unhappy they will leave – and we criticize them for not leaving! Remember, victims have been conditioned to believe that they will not make it on their own and for many abused women and men, they rely on the financial support which is provided by their abuser.
Reporting domestic violence will ensure that the family that is suffering on a daily basis receives the help and counselling they need to mend and repair the damage that has been caused. One day could mean the world of difference to a child who is witnessing the anger of their father or the difference between life and death for a woman who has inadvertently triggered her lover’s or husband’s rage.
Men who are abused by their spouses are often silenced by shame! FAMSA offers counselling and support to men as well as women who are victims of domestic violence.
Women in an abusive relationship are urged to make a call and report the abuse to the authorities. POWA offers verbal counselling session and will give a woman the strength and support that is needed to break the cycle of abuse.
Who to call?
Contact details for the various South African provinces can be found on the FAMSA website.
Hard hitting facts on domestic violence in South Africa
- The Department of Justice estimates that one out of every four South African women are survivors of domestic violence.
- POWA estimates that 1 in every 6 women who die in Gauteng are killed by an intimate partner.
- 90% of women have experienced some form of emotional abuse. Humiliation in front of others is one form of abuse that is commonly reported.
- 90% of women have experienced physical abuse. Hitting, pushing, shoving or being slapped by their spouse or partner.
- 71% had experienced sexual abuse, this includes attempts to kiss or touch which may lead to forced sexual intercourse (rape).
- 58% of women have experienced economic abuse where their money has been taken and their consent has not been given.
- 42.5% (almost half) of all South African women had experienced every form of domestic violence.
- 60% of abuse has been committed by partners, live-in lovers or spouses.
- Emotional abuse has been referred to by as many as 63% of all women as being the most serious and most harmful type of abuse.
The South African Domestic Violence Act, 116 of 1998
The Act recognises that domestic violence is a serious social evil, and occurs frequently in the cities and towns of South Africa. In a lot of cases, the victims of domestic violence are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Before the revised SA Domestic Violence Act was passed in 1998, previous legislation did not offer very effective relief for victims.
The revised Act is able to provide victims of domestic violence with the maximum protection of the law, and the Act also introduced measures to ensure that the courts and police officials give their full attention to the provisions that have been set out by the Act.