Domestic violence: Not a symbol of a man's strength
I am astounded by the number of women I have heard of who have been in relationships where domestic violence is the norm. I have been equally horrified by the fact that there are so many men out there who are perpetrators of domestic violence. It is one of the most prevalent crimes in the country yet it remains hidden.
Most people who suffer from domestic violence don’t even know what it is. They believe it can only be called that once acts of physical violence have been proven. Yet our laws go far beyond that.
The South African Domestic Violence Act of 1998 defines domestic violence as:
“Physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; economic abuse; intimidation; harassment; stalking; damage to property; entry into the complainant’s residence without consent, where the parties do not share the same residence; or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms, or may cause immediate harm to, the safety, health or wellbeing of the complainant.”
The South African Police Service defines it as:
• Sexual abuse (whether you are married to the other person or not);
•?Physical abuse or assault (for example, slapping, biting, kicking and threats of physical violence);
•?Damage to property or anything you value;
•?Stalking (when the other person follows or approaches you or your children repeatedly);
•?Economic abuse, that is, when the other person keeps money to which you are legally entitled from you in an unreasonable manner by refusing to pay or share the rent or mortgage bond for the home you share; or
•?Disposing of any property (household goods) in which you have an interest, without your permission;
•?Emotional abuse (that is, degrading or humiliating behaviour, including repeated insults, belittling, cursing and threats); and
•?Any other controlling or abusive behaviour that poses a threat to your safety, health or wellbeing.
Men and women have to be aware of these prohibitions. It is important that this information is circulated to as many people as possible so that women in particular know their rights. And men who are in denial must acknowledge what they already know – that they are abusers. We need to shame abusers. There is no need to hide this anymore.
People must understand that it’s not just physical violence that constitutes abuse. Insults, belittling, cursing, threats, degrading and humiliating behaviour are all forms of abuse. These are often the precursors to physical violence. Women cannot be treated as property by men.
What has been more shocking to me is the number of people who are well educated who continue to be perpetrators of domestic violence – one would think that an education would help. Even young university-going people actively abuse their partners.
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2013 found that 50% of the South African women surveyed reported that they had suffered emotional and verbal abuse. Fifty percent. Let that number sink in. That means one in two women suffer a form of abuse in this country – and it continues to be swept under the rug.
The most disturbing thing here is that, when we speak of women in an abusive relationship, we often want to blame the victim – for staying. Yet we rarely demand that the perpetrator stops his actions. When will we talk to the men who are responsible for this crime? If 50% of women are abused, does this mean that 50% of men are abusers?
A Medical Research Council study in 2012 found that one in two women murdered in South Africa are killed by their partner.
Men have to stop being a danger to the women they say they love. Men who abuse their women have to stop what they are doing. There is nothing to understand about their actions. There is no need to over-intellectualise it. We know the historical context that has led men to think that they can do as they wish. Women live in fear of their partners yet the actions of men are understood. Why must they be understood when women are in perpetual danger? There is nothing strong about abusing the women you love.