You Can Be Safe (violence)
How to break the cycle of domestic abuse and violence
South Africa has the highest rate of abuse, rape and physical assault against women in the world.
Unfortunately, women have a higher chance of experiencing abuse during pregnancy.
Knowing the facts will help you recognise the signs and symptoms, as well as, know how and where you, or someone you know, can find help
What is abuse?
Violence and abuse have many faces, which make it hard to recognise.
Here are some of the different types.
Intimate partner violence (IPV): Threatened, attempted or completed physical or sexual violence or emotional abuse by a current or former intimate partner such as a spouse, ex-spouse, current or former boyfriend or girlfriend, or a dating partner.
Emotional abuse: The repeated use of language or behaviour which is meant to control or harm, such as:
• Harsh, unreasonable and repeated criticism
• Unreasonable or unrealistic demands or expectations
• Unpredictable behaviour
• Aggressive or threatening behaviour
• Humiliation and other verbal assault
• Isolating of the person
• Using ‘fear tactics’ or ‘guilt trips’
• Threats of abandonment, or threats of having an affair
• Threats of harm to the person, the person’s children, friends or family
• Forced sexual acts
• Control of a person’s sexual and reproductive choices
• Financial control
Physical abuse: When a person is injured on purpose. Where the intention is to be cruel or hurtful. It may involve punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking or any other way of harming someone’s body physically.
Sexual abuse: Any contact or interaction (physical, visual, verbal or psychological) between people, for the purpose of sexual stimulation, where one is in a position of power (abuser).
Rape: Any sexual act which is forced onto another person – including, but not limited to, acts of sexual penetration into the vagina, anus or mouth of another individual without their consent. A person can be raped by anyone, including their partner, family members, friends or strangers or a group of people. When the rapist is a blood or legal relative, then the crime is incest.
Financial or economic abuse: The use of financial means to control another person, including:
• Strict control over a person’s finances, such as restricting the person to an ‘allowance’ or ‘pocket money’.
• Withholding money.
• Withholding basic necessities such as food, clothes, medicine or even shelter.
• Denying a person their freedom of movement by limiting their access to transport or the right to drive.
• Preventing a person from working or choosing a career.
• Sabotaging a person’s job, such as causing a person to regularly miss or be late for work, or calling frequently at a person’s place of work.
• Stealing from a person or forcibly taking their money.
Recognise the cycle of violence
Abusive relationships generally follow a cycle of violence. Knowing what this looks like is the first step to learning how to break it.
1. “Honeymoon” period: A quiet, violence-free time.
2. Tension: Arguments start, the abuser’s reactions seem extreme, and tension builds up.
3. Violence: The abuse begins and can be of any type, such as physical abuse, emotional, etc.
4. Remorse: The abuser shows remorse (shame, sorrow, or regret) by repeatedly apologising and begging for forgiveness.
5. Forgiveness: The woman starts to feel guilty, thinking perhaps she was the cause of the abuse, and accepts the abuser’s apology.
What to look out for
Every woman is different, but when it comes to abuse there are some common signs. If you are worried that you, or someone you know, are the victim of abuse, ask yourself if any of the following signs are present:
• Physical injury
• Tension headaches
• Disturbed sleeping and eating
• HIV or other sexually transmitted infections
• Crying more than usual
• Difficulty concentrating
• Restlessness or listlessness
• Withdrawing from people and relationships
• Wanting to be alone
• Being easily frightened and jumpy
• Being easily upset
• Fear of sex
• Loss of sexual pleasure
• Changes in lifestyle
• Increased substance abuse
• Behaving as if the abuse does
• Anxiety and fear
• Guilt, helplessness
• Humiliation, embarrassment or shame
• Lower self-esteem
• Feeling alone and misunderstood
• Losing hope for the future
• Personality changes
• Loss of memory
• Having flashbacks of the abuse
• Suicidal thoughts
Important: Even if a woman does not show any of these signs, she may still be experiencing abuse.
So, why stay?
With all the pain and suffering in abusive relationships, why do women stay in them? There are many reasons.
• She may feel emotionally and financially dependent on her abuser.
• She may feel it is better for her children to grow up with both their parents.
• She may feel she has nowhere to go.
• She may have been threatened by the abuser and fears for her safety if she leaves.
• She may feel worthless or that she does not have the strength or ability to leave.
• She may hope that one day the abuser will change and stop hurting her.
You have choices
You can live a life without fear. Here are some steps you can take to be safe.
• Ask someone for help. Speak to a health worker, social worker, friend or family member to talk about options to stay safe.
• Apply for a Protection Order. This will legally forbid the abuser from committing any acts of domestic violence against you.
• Remove yourself (and your children) from immediate harm and stay in a shelter, at a friend’s or a relative’s home.
• You may have to plan ahead. Think about a ‘safety plan’ which can help you get ready to leave the harmful situation. This can include packing a bag that contains extra clothing for yourself and your children, copies of documents such as your ID, children’s birth certificates, your Protectin Order, extra medication if necessary, and copies of any keys you may need. Ask a trusted person to keep your bag until you are ready to leave. This way, the abuser cannot prevent you from leaving by keeping these important items.
See the resources list of shelters and support organisations in the Cape Town area should you, or someone you know, need help.