Gender violence in the Spotlight, For Women's Month we celebrate "What She Said"

DEBATE: Domestic abusers don't have a profile, and there's no typical victim

In your marriage you feel appalled by yourself.

Claudia Burger, Social Worker and Programme Director of ANEX and a domestic violence survivor

Mothers, sisters, daughters, friends - anyone of these women could be a victim of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence remains a pressing issue in the country. When looking at this issue from the outside, it is difficult to understand why women who are abused by their partners don't just leave. That is because we don't fully grasp the situation.

To help us understand this and to give some insights on the realities of domestic abuse, Pippa Hudson hosted a panel on domestic violence. Joining her were various women who work with victims of abuse in various spheres.

We often hear figures like one in six women or one in four are victims of abuse. Seeham Semaai, director at the Women’s Legal Centre says the numbers are based on the women who actually report their abuse. She adds that women don't know about the acts that can protect them.

One of the challenges that we have are those are the actual reported ones. There are a lot of women who are still out there, who don't understand the purpose of the domestic violence act or the protection of harassment act that can assist them.

Seeham Semaai, director at the Women’s Legal Centre

Even if women are aware of these Acts, Semaai says the number of withdrawals of cases are high. This feeds into that perception that women who are abused could just leave - but often it is not that simple.

Nozuko Conjwa is a social worker at Nonceba Family Counselling and says that this could be attributed to the psychological abuse women in these situations face. She adds that many women feel like the can't leave an abusive relationship because the feel like they don't have support outside their relationships.

Another big factor, according to Nonceba, are cultural reasons that prohibit women from leaving a marriage. No matter haw bad the situation gets, women get told to stay with their abusers.

If you look at that, it is abuse on its own because the women we think are going to be able to assist us in terms of curbing domestic violence, are also perpetrating it by telling us to stay.

Nozuko Conjwa, social worker at Nonceba Family Counselling

Claudia Burger is a social worker and programme director of Activists Networking against the Exploitation of Children (ANEX). She is also a survivor of domestic abuse. From her experience, women struggle to leave because they are fully stripped of all confidence.

Burger says one of the hardest things to deal with when in a violent relationship is the stigma attached to it. She says people will shame you for things you already feel ashamed about. When it comes to the actual abuse, you do feel appalled, yet you cling on to the good moments of the relationship - because you feel like you cannot leave.

The person who inflicts the violence is like a tsunami. You don't know when to expect what. I was abused in every way, beside physical. At 3 o'clock you start asking yourself, what do I need to prepare myself for tonight.

Claudia Burger is a social worker and programme director of ANEX

When it comes to the abusers - there is no particular face or type of person. In fact, there is not such thing as a typical victim either. Pauline Perez, general manager at Nonceba Counselling Centre says women who come to them for help come from all type of backgrounds.

Burger adds that there is no way of telling who a perpetrator is. You have no way of saying only those people are abusers. In the case of her ex-husband, he was well liked in a crowd, and would be fine in a braai, but privately was very controlling and narcissistic.

Conjwa says that there are no profile for a perpetrator of abuse, but common issue that arises with them are anger, control and power.

The abusive partners come from different places. They're white, they're black, they're professionals, they're non-professionals - and so there is no such thing as a typical perpetrator.

Pauline Perez, General Manager at Nonceba Counselling Centre

First for Women did a survey of survivors of domestic violence to find out more about how to help the situation. One of the biggest fears women have of leaving an abusive relationship is the economic factors. But the First for Women survey showed many survivors were able to find their feet quite quickly after leaving.

Robin Farrel, director at First For Women Insurance, says that 90 % of women found financial independence. It took them between three months and two years to find their feet, but they did it one way or another. Another key factor in overcoming abuse was great support systems, particularly of other women, who helped them regain their confidence and give them strength to leave.

Farrel says some of the best advice from survivors for those wanting to leave is to plan where they are going, keep evidence of abuse, keep a bad with all your important documents and be prepared to leave at any minute.

That's the message we want to give to those women who are currently victims. They can become survivors and they can become financially self sufficient.

Robin Farrel, director at First For Women Insurance

Listen to the full panel discussion below:


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