Abuse usually happens behind closed doors. Domestic violence is seldom talked about openly. So the abuse continues unabated and the perpetrators go unpunished. The 16 Days campaign is a welcome voice, exposing violence and abuse by raising awareness.
POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) defines abuse as any form of behaviour that controls another person, causes physical harm or fear, makes someone do things they do want to do, or prevents them from doing things they want to do. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, material or financial. Abused women usually experience multiple forms of abuse.
HIV and abuse
The 16 Days campaign coincides with World Aids Week. The correlation between HIV infection and violence against women and children is obvious. Statistics show that women and even children are victims to high levels of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and intimate femicide (murdered by their partner). Recent UNAIDS/WHO statistics reveal that the number of children living with HIV/Aids has doubled since 2000. About 56% of all people living with HIV/Aids are women (3,200,000). Sadly, women are more prone to HIV infection than men both anatomically and when there is sexual assault involved. Tragically, the virus usually progresses faster in women than in men. Comparatively; if a man and a woman are infected with the same strain of HIV, the same viral load, at the same age and social circumstances, the woman will live about five years less than that man.
The level of wellbeing and the future growth potential of society are largely dependent on women. When women control their own lives and incomes, they invest in themselves, their children and their communities.
The law is on our side. “IT IS THE PURPOSE of the (Domestic Violence) Act to afford the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from domestic abuse that the law can provide; and to introduce measures which seek to ensure that the relevant organs of state give full effect to the provisions of this Act, and thereby KO convey that the State is committed to the elimination of domestic violence.”
But the law alone is not enough. Victims of abuse need support, counselling and practical assistance.
Becoming a survivor
If you are experiencing domestic violence, you may believe that it’s easier to stay with your abuser than to try to leave and risk retaliation. However, there are many things you can do to protect yourself while getting out of an abusive situation, and there are people waiting to help.
- When considering leaving an abusive relationship, you may be putting yourself at extra risk, so it is important to develop a plan for safe departure. You can contact a POWA centre or NICRO Women’s Support Centre.
- You can approach a shelter facility, which is a safe place to stay for a while – away from your abuser, where you can receive support, counselling and be able to think calmly about what to do next.
- The law is on your side. The Domestic Violence Act provides you with legal ways to stop your abuser from harming you. Some of these ways are: laying a charge of assault or trespass, getting an interdict or eviction order, or getting a divorce. For more information go to www.paralegaladvice.org.za.
- Domestic violence leaves psychological scars that run deep. The trauma of what you’ve been through can stay with you long after you’ve escaped the abusive situation. Counselling and support groups for domestic abuse survivors can help you process what you’ve been through and learn how to build new and healthy relationships.
The law recognises that domestic violence is not a private matter – it is a serious crime against society. In fact in the preamble to the Domestic Violence Act, it is described as a ‘social evil’! We have a responsibility to speak out when we know about abuse.
You can help:
- Listen to and believe a woman who confides in you; ask her how you can help and what she needs to feel safer.
- Respect that any information an abused women gives you is confidential.
- Support the right of all women to live in safety.
- The Domestic Violence Act says any health-care worker, social worker, teacher or person who suspects that a child has been abused must report this immediately to the police. The Family Violence, Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Units (FCS) of the South African Police Services are specially trained to deal sensitively with adults and children who have been abused.
- Intervene if you witness behaviour that you believe is violent or abusive – taking into account your personal safety and that of others in the situation. Where there is a possibility of danger, call the police for assistance.
- Inform yourself and other people about women abuse; arrange a talk for your school, union, church or community group.
If you suspect abuse and need help to know what to do about it, call LifeAssist.
By Karen Simpson