By Wilma Bedford
The Covid-19 lockdown has placed domestic violence and abuse against women in the spotlight; one out of every six women experiences violence. Violence is any abusive conduct that curbs the rights of any citizen to be free and that causes harm with regard to the health and wellbeing of others. Although the focus is on women and children, the elderly and siblings are also regular defenceless victims, but men as victims are a disregarded group. They receive scant support because they are reticent to seek help due to the possible weakling stigma that will cling to them, and they have few sanctuaries at their disposal.
The core of any violence lies in the power that the perpetrator wishes to obtain and maintain over others. To this add gender and income inequality and it creates the potential to violence, which can take on many forms: physical violence, sexual violence, verbal psychological degradation such as reviling, threats, jealousy, intimidation by for example stalking, economic violence such as a victim not having access to finances to meet essential needs, and deliberately causing damage to or destroying property. Any form of violence leaves scars and deprives a person of his or her human dignity.
Perhaps you know someone who is a victim; what do you say and do to help or do you let the opportunity pass you by to save a life?
Recognise the signs of violence. Physical violence will manifest in injuries to the body while emotional violence is characterised by signs of anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, an apologetic demeanour, drug, alcohol or substance abuse and frequent references to suicide. A change in behaviour such as extreme reserve, excessive protection of the person’s private life and isolation or avoidance of contact with friends and family can also be an indication of violence against the victim.
How do you help?
Victims live in fear and loneliness and listening and reaching out console them and restore their human dignity.
Reach out during a calm period; don’t become involved when tempers flare, it could be dangerous for you and the victim. Make sufficient time available during which the victim can talk safely and reveal the truth.
Begin the conversation by saying that you are truly concerned about the person’s safety and that you have noticed a change in him/her. Reassure the person that the conversation will be confidential.
Listen without judging; the victim wants a sound-board. If the victim doesn’t have a solution, guide him/her to suggest possibilities him/herself. According to the seriousness of the violence you could offer specific support, such as going to a place of safety, involving social services and councillors, obtaining a protection order, or procuring legal advice.
Believe the victim because the victim is the only person familiar with the perpetrator’s dark side; for an outsider it might be unthinkable that X is a violent person. Tell the victim that you believe him/her, that he/she does not deserve this, and that it is not his/her fault.
Validate the victim’s feelings. The victim can experience conflicting emotions such as guilt and anger, hope and despair, love and fear, but validate that violence is unacceptable.
Short-term assistance could be breaking the silence by talking to family, a social worker or the department of human resources at work; making contact with an organisation that can render assistance; moving out of the toxic environment to a place of safety; or relocating permanently as soon as possible.
The long-term solution is to lay a complaint of assault with the police, obtaining a case number and procuring a protection order from the nearest magistrate’s court. If you are a victim, you are entitled to a protection order; under the Constitution you have the right to live freely and safely. The Domestic Violence Act No 116 of 1998 provides a comprehensive brief on how to obtain a protection order and what the consequences are if it is not adhered to.
Break the silence and stop the pandemic of violence.
Domestic Violence Act No 116 of 1998. http://www.justice.gov.za
Stop Domestic Violence. http://www.justice.gov.za