Source: R News
In South Africa one out of every six woman is regularly assaulted by their partner and in at least 46 per cent of cases, the men involved also abuse the children living with the woman, says Dr Lerato Dikobe-Kalane, PsychMG (Psychiatry Management Group) board member.

In light of 16 days of activism on no violence against women and children taking place world-wide from 25 November to 10 December, Dr Dikobe-Kalane says that social services and the general community needs to actively address the situation and protect those vulnerable to such abuse and violence.

She says that the statistics paint a dire picture with a recently released Optimus Study on child sexual abuse and maltreatment finding that one in every three young South Africans has experienced some sort of sexual abuse by the age of 17. The study is the first nationally representative on the extent and impact of child sexual abuse and maltreatment in South Africa.

Dr Dikobe-Kalane says that unfortunately many cases go unreported hindering a comprehensive understanding of the full extent of abusive and violent episodes.

“Women are still unaware of their rights whilst others are afraid of further violence from the perpetrator if they attempt legal action. This is even more compounded by the introduction of the new Domestic Violence Act, which a lot of women do not fully understand, and the widespread non-compliance to the Act at police station level, where domestic violence cases are not being recorded as they should be.”

She says the prevalence of violence has a negative effect on women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may increase their vulnerability to HIV.

“Domestic violence can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, emotional distress, substance abuse and suicide attempts.”

Other health effects include headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, limited mobility and poor overall health. Sexual violence, particularly during childhood, can lead to increased smoking, drug and alcohol misuse, and risky sexual behaviours in later life.

“Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life. Intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity due to diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition etc.”

According to Dr Dikobe-Kalane there is unfortunately not one tangible reason which can be highlighted as the main factor driving abuse and violence.

“There is still a prevalent unequal positioning of women relative to men and the use of violence to resolve conflict is still seen as a norm in both intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. We have found that the underlying reasons for such acts of violence is usually due to lower levels of education, unemployment, exposure as a child to maltreatment, witnessing family violence, antisocial personality disorder, harmful use of alcohol, having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity and attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality.

“Sexual violence especially, is linked to beliefs in family honour and sexual purity, ideologies of male sexual entitlement and weak legal sanctions for sexual violence.”

In addressing the situation Dr Dikobe-Kalane points out that more resources are needed to strengthen the prevention of abuse and violence against women and children.

“School based programmes to prevent violence within dating relationships have shown effectiveness. However, these have yet to be assessed for use in resource-poor areas. Gender equality training which promotes communication and relationship skills within couples and communities with education on reducing access to and the harmful use of alcohol and changing cultural gender norms has shown some promise but needs to be evaluated further.

“Government departments have to enact legislation and develop policies that effectively address discrimination against women, promote gender equality; support women and help to move towards more peaceful cultural norms.

“Health care and other service providers have to be sensitized and educated on domestic violence in order to be in a position for identifying the signs and reporting to authorities.”

She says that there’s help available to victims. Victims can safely approach organisations such as People Against Woman Abuse (POWA), Hlayisani White Door Centre, Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children (SBCWC), Vukuzenzele and Mercy House if they are exposed to any of the following forms of violent situations:

  • sexual abuse (whether you are married to the other person or not);
  • physical abuse or assault (for example, slapping, biting, kicking, and threats of physical violence);
  • damage to property or anything you value;
  • stalking (when the other person follows or approaches you or your children repeatedly);
  • economic abuse, that is, when the other person keeps money to which you are legally entitled from you in an unreasonable manner by -
  • refusing to pay or share the rent or mortgage bond for the home you share; or
  • disposing of any property (household goods) in which you have interest, without your permission;
  • emotional abuse (that is, degrading or humiliating behaviour, including repeated insults, belittling, cursing and threats);
  • any other controlling or abusive behaviour which poses a threat to your safety, health or well-being.
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