Domestic Violence has become a topic which I have visited a number of times in the last few months, the first time being during last year’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, and the second time being when the video of Babes Wodumo being beaten up by Mampimtsha (her boyfriend) went viral a few weeks ago. This made me feel uneasy as I became aware of the fact that I am only concerned with the reality of domestic violence when a video goes viral or when I see a post on Facebook, yet this is a reality lived by many women in South Africa.
According to Statistics SA, one in five women over the age of 18 years has experienced physical abuse. The intensity and frequency of the abuse appears to correlate with a woman’s marital status, level of education, interaction in social circles and wealth. One in five women is too much for us to continue sitting back while uttering phrases like “it is none of my business”, it has now become our business because every day we are sharing and retweeting posts of missing women who are later found dead having died at the hands of their lovers or male perpetrators.
These findings were the motivation behind me running a questionnaire on the Sister In Law Instagram and Twitter pages. The answers provided by the women who took part in the questionnaire left me paralysed and I came to learn that there is definitely a gap in our legal system which does not encourage women to step forward and report incidences of physical assault against them. When I asked why women did not lay criminal charges against male perpetrators, the answers I received were disheartening and shocking. One woman said that when she reported a case of rape at her local police station, the only police officer who was willing to assist her wanted sexual favours in return, while another woman said that taking legal action would have been a joke because the perpetrator was friends with a number of law officials in the area (police and magistrates). Another very discouraging reason which I received from a number of women was that the women in their circles did not believe them and would say things like “what did you do to him? He is such a nice guy” or, “are you sure you are ready to end his career over this?“…honestly, if our own Sisters do not believe us how much more can we expect from the law, men or our community members at large.
Over the past weekend (Saturday 23 March) I was invited by Sane Mathe, brand ambassador of Tammy Taylor Nails – Verdi Shopping Centre, Johannesburg, to a pamper and empowerment session. When Sane asked me what topic I wanted to educate the women who would be attending about, I did not hesitate – domestic violence immediately came to mind. I know that this is an important topic to have regular conversations about in order for us to create a platform which will leave women feeling empowered beyond what the law can do for them. My opening statement was “what can we as women do for our fellow Sisters who are victims of domestic violence? Seeing that we are in agreement that the legal system has fundamental problems in protecting women, what can we, as a unit do beyond protection orders and dropped charges? Once a victim has confided in us do we encourage her to press charges? And once she has made a decision to press charges, do we step up and ensure that we are visible as her support system or do we sit back and say “my thoughts and prayers are with you during this challenging court trial”? What I learned from the discussion with the ladies was that we all felt that there is definitely more that we can do for our sisters, aunts, cousins and mothers who are victims of domestic violence. We can offer unwavering support and make a commitment to be fully present until they see the trial to finish. We further emphasised that we are aware that women tend to drop charges because they feel lonely and isolated during reporting of the crime and awaiting a court date, we came to the conclusion that issues of domestic violence have become our business and seeing as we are in this together, we ought to take action as a unit.
During this session we also reminded ourselves that there is a huge factor of abuse which we tend to overlook, and that is isolation by the perpetrator. Once a man says “I do not like it when you hang out with your friend so-and-so because they are a bad influence” or “I do not like that you have Instagram” and a woman acts on these statements by gradually pulling away from her social circles, a level of emotional abuse and control has already stared. At first this may seem innocent and may seem like it is from a loving place, but what the man is really doing is isolating the woman and then the intensity of the abuse increases when he realises that she has no one to turn to. There is also the manipulation factor where the man will play golden boy in the couples joint social circles and will be a total monster at home. At a later stage when the woman cries for help, all her friends are in disbelief because her partner is a true gentlemen when he is around them. The end result: a woman loses her friends, family, partner and her dignity (especially if she keeps going back to the abuser).
The reality is that we will never understand the psychological aspects of abuse and we will never be in a position to judge a woman for going back or for not being the person we know while she is in an abusive relationship. But what we do have control over is our level of tolerance. We need to do better as a unit in being there for women who are victims of abuse because male perpetrators rely on the fact that they will never face jail time, simply because women do not report incidences of domestic violence, and if they do they do not see the court trial to finish.
How to obtain a protection order:
A protection order can be obtained against any person who has been in a domestic relationship with a complainant and who has committed an act of domestic violence against the complainant. The complainant can apply at any Magistrates Court around where the complainant or respondent lives or works. The protection order is lodged by the clerk of the court and the complainant has the right to also lay a criminal charge against the respondent (I personally encourage all victims to do this – remember assault is a crime punishable by law).
An individual who is close to the victim may apply for a protection order on behalf of the victim, but the downside of this is that it can only be done with express permission from the complainant – this means that if the victim is not ready to apply for a protection order, the court will not grant it. If the complainant feels that their well-being is at risk, they may apply outside of the ordinary court hours.
Once the application has been processed the court will issue an interim protection order and a suspended warrant of arrest to be served on the respondent. The respondent will then have to attend the hearing on a specified date to provide reasons why the protection order should not be made a final order.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, in addition to applying for a protection order and pressing charges, I would like to encourage you to seek professional help from a psychologist in order for someone to help you deal with the trauma you experienced. You do not have to attempt to heal on your own.
Your Sister In Law