Together we can defeat the domestic violence scourge

When I watched television news the other day, three stories in a row were about domestic violence and abuse. Radio talk shows debated how this scourge, also known as intimate partner violence, can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, or other factors.

This prompted the #MenAreTrash hashtag which trended on Twitter across our country. The South Africa Demographic and Health Survey (SADHS) findings from approximately 13 000 households that were interviewed, shows that two out of 10 adult women have experienced physical violence from their partner.

I wonder what it will take before we, as a society, step up and decide once and for all that it is time to end domestic violence and abuse, which sometimes ends up in death. This public health crisis is not just isolated to the lives of celebrities – or those who have access to social media. While domestic violence becomes more visible when celebrities choose to use violence against their intimate partners, these are not the only faces of domestic violence.

Domestic violence happens everywhere and in every neighbourhood. It’s a problem for young couples and old couples, wealthy couples and poor couples, urban couples and rural couples. Most domestic violence incidents are never reported.

Here is a scenario: What do you do when a friend sends you photos of her battered face with a text message stating: “I’m leaving”. Were you alarmed or saddened that she had suffered abuse and happy that she was leaving? What did you do when you heard that she was still with him? Were you disappointed and concerned for her, yet you did not report the incident because they have two children and she chose to stay and you did not want to betray her confidence? What have you done about the fact that he has always been emotionally abusive but has never exhibited physical abuse?

Do you believe that one abuse is enough and you are equally responsible if you do not report the domestic abuse? Domestic abuse violates the most basic of human rights – to be safe within your own body and your home. It’s a real danger that many women and girls face each day. It is appalling that the human rights of women and girls are still so compromised. We must come together and defuse this issue before the physical violence escalates further and further.

Help end domestic violence and abuse. Speak up. Speak out, and make a difference for victims of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic abuse affects everyone. It’s time to end this epidemic of violence and here is how we can all do it: Each one of us can do simple things to make that change happen. We can do this by challenging victim-blaming comments. We can do it by having dialogues about the kind of community we want to be. We can do it by reaching out to those in our lives who may be affected by domestic violence and sharing information with them and supporting them.

I know it is hard for people to admit it could happen in their own back yard, to a family member or a friend or a co-worker. If it happened to them, it could happen to us. So we try to distance ourselves from the violence.

The real answer to domestic violence is education, and that means knowing what the red flags are and knowing what to do when you spot them. For a woman who suspects she’s in danger, it means listening to her gut. She should let others know she’s nervous. She can call any number of victim’s service providers to talk over her fears. And she can notify the police.

For a woman’s family and friends, it means being ready with a shoulder to cry on, letting her know it’s safe to talk, and knowing when to offer advice and what advice to offer. It also means getting help for the perpetrator, or talking to him about how he’s hurting his wife or girlfriend. Reach out to those you believe may be in an abusive relationship. Offer your support and assistance and break the isolation that the abuser has most likely used to control her. Advocate at local, provincial and national levels for systemic change to support victims of domestic violence and contact your local domestic abuse programme for help out and ask how you can help the victims.

For the community, it means supporting the police and other service providers who assist those involved in these cases – and not looking the other way. Together we can create this change. Together, our community can end domestic violence and child abuse. Domestic violence and abuse affects everyone. It’s time to end this scourge and epidemic.

  • Phumulo Masualle is Premier of the Eastern Cape Province

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