Moving a non-violent South Africa forward

Sharon Thompson from the non profit organisation TLC with muffins made made for the campaign.

Once, after beating her, Janet’s* husband took her to hospital with her blood still fresh on her clothes.

The doctor urged her to press charges, but she told him she had fallen.

Originally from Durban, Janet had been married at 21 and moved to Cape Town with her husband. She endured years of abuse by this man, the father of her two children.

Besides the beatings, she suffered through isolation, intimidation and blaming.

Janet told her story at Table View police’s launch of the 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, at the Kingsgate Church, in Table View, on Saturday November 25.

Janet said society should not be so quick to give up on people who choose to stay in abusive relationships because victims of abuse often find themselves with very few choices.

“He would say, ‘I don’t love you. You will amount to nothing.’ But I was afraid to speak out. I was afraid to go back home. My abuser was someone of stature. People looked up to him.”

She also stayed because of the “financial security” her husband provided. She had drifted in and out of jobs through the years and was unable to take care of herself and her two children on her own.

But, in the end, Janet did find a way out. She said religion had helped her to find strength.

“Things can change. He divorced me, and the kids and I left with nothing, but I had peace. I found out who I was. I found out what dictates me. I am special. I am unique.”

She now speaks so confidently about her ordeal that it is hard to picture her as an abused housewife. But Janet said it had taken years of therapy and prayer to get her where she is today. She is now a social worker who works with prison inmates. Fourteen years ago, she married David*, a “wonderful guy” who proposed after only three months of dating.

“Her ex-husband saw her barefoot and in the kitchen. I saw much more than that,” said David.

The couple have also become the foster parents to a boy from Dunoon. “Never look down on anyone who does not want to let go. Remind them of love. Remind them that they are beautiful. Don’t give up on them because no one gave up on me. My life is still in the process of restoration”, said Janet.

This year’s theme for 16 Days is “Count me in: together moving a non-violent South Africa forward.” People signed a pledge at the launch in support of the campaign.

Helen le Roux, director of the Community Intervention Centre (CIC), said there needed to be greater focus on perpetrators, who were usually the object of “shame and blame” even though most were themselves once the victims of violence and abuse.

“We know that hurt people hurt others. I worry that the public, or even the domestic violence community who should know better, think we have ‘solved’ the issue as long as there are loud calls for strong action against perpetrators.

“We can all shout at the top of our lungs that we believe domestic violence is wrong, but until we as a society figure out how to reduce partner violence, our shouts are nothing but wind.

“I believe that we need a new approach that puts the perpetrator back in the picture in a different way – as whole human beings,” said Ms Le Roux. She believes the way forward is behaviour change programmes for domestically violent men. These are designed to address abusive and violent behaviour. “Unlike anger-management programmes, the focus is on changing the perpetrator’s desire to control his partner, by targeting his attitudes and behaviours,” said Ms Le Roux.

Milnerton cluster commander, Major General Aneeqah Jordaan, said 16 Days should be 365 days of no violence.

She said SAPS encouraged victims to take out protection orders against their abusers because “it hangs over their heads” and they could be arrested if they stepped out of line.

She also encouraged neighbours to not turn a blind eye and report domestic-violence cases to the police before they became murder cases.

* Names have been changed.

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