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[OPINION] Exposing abuse not easy for victims, or those around them

A woman silenced and disempowered. A woman abused. A woman murdered. One too many. Too many than we can count.

It’s in the daily headlines: Woman killed by ‘jealous’ lover. Body of woman reported missing found in a shallow grave. Man shoots girlfriend and baby (2) dead. Man in jail for alleged kidnapping, rape and murder. You get the picture.

A lot more stories of abused and murdered women, sadly, do not make it into the news. And so they die nameless and faceless and do family members ever find closure? Many cases of abuse do not make it to police records, nor are cases investigated. And many abusers never get their day in court.

Ever since it was alleged that Babes Wodumo was physically abused by her ex-lover, Mampintsha, there has been a lot of commentary on how radio host Masechaba Ndlovu of Metro FM went about exposing the matter.

Eusebius McKaiser of Talk Radio 702, who had noted their differing views, invited legal journalist Karyn Maughan, radio producer Nolwazi Tusini and TV personality Claire Mawisa in the studio to talk and to get a deeper sense into how they viewed the matter.

Mawisa said she felt Wodumo was bullied (by the manner in which her personal problem was revealed) and she should have "driven this process". How often do victims of abuse drive that process? Isn’t abuse incredibly disempowering? Didn't Ndlovu, perhaps, deal with the issue the best way she knew how? On radio. On her show. She is a broadcaster, a communicator. She uses her voice and the platform which she has been afforded as a tool to engage with society. One caller to the McKaiser show even said Ndlovu should have gone to the police station to help Wodumo open a case.

What he said reminded me of an instance when someone reached out to me immediately after she had been battered by her boyfriend with whom she shared an apartment. We went to the hospital and then to the police station to open a case. Fast forward to a few weeks or months after she had eventually mustered the bravado to leave him: she told me that she was repeatedly beaten by the man, saying there wasn’t a part of the wall in that apartment where her body wasn't thrown at. And when I asked her why she had dropped the case, she said she didn’t have the strength to continue with it.

Most often it takes a long time for victims to speak out against abuse. And once things are out in the open - it takes emotional and mental strength to see it through, that's if it even makes it into a court of law.

Is there a right or wrong way to expose abuse? Is there a manual titled: Exposing Abuse 101: Life's Basic Steps in Getting it Right?

As consumers of news and as the social media community we will always criticise and point fingers and, to be quite honest, all the three ladies on the McKaiser show raised serious, valid points based on their differing points of view. I take nothing away from any of them. One should listen to understand (where the other is coming from) and not listen to judge.

Let me divert from the Babes Wodumo-Masechaba Ndlovu-Mampintsha story for a bit.

On the telenovela The Queen on Mzansi Magic, for weeks we saw the writers putting the spotlight on abuse and its manifestation. How it all starts, how certain puzzling instances and behaviours don’t seem to make sense in the beginning. And all too often a woman will get a sense that “this does not feel right” but she’ll just brush it off or she will be made to feel that she is “overreacting”.

During the very first few moments that Tebogo (played brilliantly by Fezile Makhanya) was introduced to the viewer, I guessed that his character had been greatly influenced by Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey. Both the men are controlling. They want to rule over their women and it’s their way or the high way.

Tebogo was a very smooth charmer. He had a smile to melt any woman’s heart. He was a man who wants to provide and show her woman off. He said all the right things. He told Kea (played by the talented Dineo Moeketsi) that he loved her and he wanted to marry her and to make her his queen. In the eyes of family members, he was the perfect partner.

However, Kea’s brother (played impeccably by Loyiso MacDonald) from the beginning had his reservations about this “perfect” Tebogo dude. For Kagiso, it was more like a gut feeling thing.

If it seems too good to be true …

The first signs of aggression and a temper on Tebogo’s part showed when he violently grabbed Kea at a restaurant. He was not pleased that she had paid a bill while he was away to pick up a phone call. The tone of his voice. His facial expression. It was all there. It was obvious right there and then that this character was going to be a volcano which would eventually erupt – and once that happens it was bound to get really ugly.

To cut a long story short. Kea got slapped randomly when she least expected it, usually during disagreements. The last episode that I saw of those two was when she was beaten to a pulp. Her mother found lying her on the floor. The only thing that separated her from death was that she was breathing.

But could we say we didn’t see that coming? Was Kea not warned many times by those around her?

As much as the signs are always there - and I do not blame those who are unable to accurately read them - it’s not always black and white. There are grey areas that are not simple to navigate.

Moving right along … Karabo Mokoena and Sandile Mantsoe. And I’m specifically choosing this real-life story. Not that there have not been other stories of women being abused and killed. There have been plenty, many which didn’t make it into the media. Those stories are of women who silently die and no one reads about them. Sometimes there's no justice whatsoever.

There are many, many stories of women in the villages and townships who are shamed when they go to report abuse at police stations. Recently I saw a post on Facebook in which a man said he had just witnessed an incident at a police station where a woman, who had gone in to report physical violence and to lodge criminal charges, was humiliated by a female police officer who told her to speak louder.

I, like many others, followed Mokoena's story in the news from its beginning - right from the minute she was reported missing. At the end of the murder trial, Sowetan Live did a short documentary with the investigators who dealt with this case. And the sentiments there were that Mantsoe came across as arrogant. It’s like he did nothing wrong and he spoke about how he did this and that for Mokoena. On an Eyewitness News story, Mantsoe said he was a “positive influence” on Karabo’s life. But where is she right now, Sandile?

Abusers see nothing wrong with their behaviour. In fact, many women have heard utterances such as: “You made me do it”, “Why do you make me do this to you?”, “You refuse to listen, you always drive me to this.”

And then what usually follows is: “I’ll never do it again. I’m sorry." "Please forgive me, I was angry". "I will be better, I promise.”

The woman then does not go to the police station or tell someone.

Maughan said on the McKaiser show that many women had died with protection orders in their hands.

I also understand the predicament of loved ones who try to be supportive and urge the victim of abuse to go to the police but she refuses. “He’ll get better.” “It was just this once.” “We spoke about it and he apologised.”

And to the question: What don’t you leave him?” usually “I love him” is the answer.

Mokoena’s mother, when she was interviewed on eNCA’s Check Point while her daughter was still being searched for, she said she asked Sandile: "Where is my daughter. Have you killed Karabo?" No mother imagines that one day she is going to be called in to identify the burnt body of her child and only recognise her by the nail polish on her toes. The trauma. I guess she just wanted to scream: Somebody, shake me so hard and wake me up because this is not real!

In court, Mokoena and Mantsoe's relationship was described as “dramatic and violent” at times. All the while Mantsoe maintained that Mokoena committed suicide, whereas Mokoena's sister told the court that the last time she spoke to Mokoena she was “excited about life and did not sound suicidal at all”. During the trial, the court heard Mokoena was warned that Sandile would kill her.

Most recently we heard of Zolile Khumalo who was shot and killed at Mangosuthu University of Technology, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend who refused to accept the end of the relationship. So for those who end it with an abuser, their lives are often even more at risk.

Speaking about abuse is not easy. That's why most victims struggle to out the perpetrators. Abuse messes with the psyche of the victim, leaving one with all sorts of emotions: denial, anger, shame, resentment, guilt, and so forth.

So who dictates how, when and on which platform abuse should be exposed? How does a tweet of criticism and disdain at the manner in which Wodumo's abuse allegations were revealed resolve the matter? Let's not lose focus here. The issue is the allegations, not the manner - that will only derail us. So any effort - by anyone, in whichever manner - to save a life (literally) by all means – I say shona knona.

Refilwe Thobega is an online copy editor at Eyewitness News.

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