[OPINION] No quick fixes for domestic abuse
Our world is now and has always been imperfect. For as long we let others be in charge, perfection and sometimes even excellence is unattainable. It is up to all of us to choose a good quality of life and living our possibility, because we can. Even when people feel they have no choices, they have. If we all showed up in the world looking after the people around us the way we would appreciate being seen and cared for, life would be less broken.
Violence doesn’t make you resilient, it leaves you broken and unworthy.
It is up to us and not circumstances to proactively find solutions to the scourge of abuse. While I don’t condone any violence, the perpetrator is a victim too. Only the perpetrators powerlessly resort to violence, a temporary solution. The long-term damage or any other consequences, not a deterrent.
Raising awareness if domestic abuse offers victims everywhere the small safety net that they are not alone, that they can speak to somebody at the end of a helpline or somebody they trust, that they won’t be judged, that it is not their fault, that they are not the abuse they are being subjected to.
Many of us mistakenly dispense advice without being asked. Seldom will this ease the heavy burden of the victim, neither is it likely that we will we say anything they have not already been told or thought through themselves many times.
It is my assumption from the community in which I was raised and the one I now live in that violence against women is more prevalent than violence against men. I suspect this is because most women and children are physically more vulnerable than men. Emotional abuse can be dispensed equally by men and women and is sometimes as equally violent as physical abuse. All this stems from somewhere.
We need to take an interest in the wellbeing of women and children in our circles of influence and elsewhere who are exposed and vulnerable every day. Women need quick access to their legal rights in abusive situations, as well as their practical options. Shelters and safe houses are not permanent solutions, they are a reprieve. The victims often have to go back and face worse abuse for making an effort to escape and look for safety.
As with anything that does not affect us directly, we can have loving, generous and advisory conversations among ourselves and with victims of abuse. Mostly the best thing to do is to listen, to be there and to hold the person’s pain.
“You really should get out! You keep going back, what do you expect? What example are you to your children? One day he is going to kill you! I would fight back! You should really get a restraining order. Why don’t you have him arrested?” But until we have answered the question “and then what?” two or three times in our minds, we are just confirming the hopelessness of the situation. All these observations might be truths, they might be from our places of powerlessness to assist the victim, but they are not solutions.
I am quickly learning about how domestic abuse is sometimes the usual way of life for some families. A young woman was murdered by her partner in front of their four-year-old daughter. Their daughter was taken into care after losing both her parents.
In some communities, one RDP house is surrounded by three or four zinc sheet structures called bungalows. They live so close to each other they share electricity from the main house.
I was middle-class curious about “why nobody helped this woman” when she was running around shouting for help. The reply, ”Well, they always fight like that so we thought it was a normal Saturday night beating.”
I am always overwhelmed or horrified at these stories; I am learning to hear what is said, digest it, understand it and then get a perspective on what can be useful in a group of people consistently faced with this. To me, there is no one correct answer, no true solution in sight.
A 50-year-old woman was gang raped and beaten while visiting a tavern. Her son collected her battered, naked body from a nearby play park in a wheelbarrow. Just imagine that for a moment. Relative to most sub-economic communities, this one has residential addresses and communication is quite easy, word of mouth being the most convenient, but not always the most reliable, source.
It is unimaginable from our middle-class cars, homes and offices to understand what happens in townships where there are no house numbers. How does one call the police to help if there is no address? How do you save a life by getting an ambulance?
My friend runs a drama school in Khayelitsha for the youth in the community, with his focus in the area of trauma. The drama teachers are all trauma survivors and their work helps the youth and some of their parents. The drama school keeps the children off the street and gives them a place to connect with others. Most of the plays act out themes of drug abuse, violence, alcohol abuse, bullying, HIV Aids and its impact, rape and gangsterism.
It was useful to see how the solutions were concluded by the kids themselves, they supported each other, they offered moral and practical support from their own homes and they corrected behaviour patterns which were destructive. Most of the plays were performed in Xhosa.
It made no difference. The messages were loud and clear. The effortless getting into character for the young actors was even more overwhelming. Their performances represented an unknown reality to most of us. Their solutions were communal and human connection was vital. There are lessons many of our own communities could learn from these little actors.
When my children get acting roles in The cat in the hat or Peter Pan, they have to learn who and how to do that. These children who are their age seamlessly became drug lords, abusive dads, ratty moms, terrified children and can demonstrate the effects of abuse on them, on their home and their community at Oscar-award quality. It felt like they were committed to solving the social issues through their sterling performances. They also knew which behaviours were right and wrong.
This is what they were taught through acting, that they are worthy of love and support. Drama, it occurred to me, as it had to my friend Mluleki years ago, is a great way to get children to find their voices, to find themselves away from the violence and dysfunction.
The life skills these children learn will aid them with choices they make as young adults. Young adults who grow up in abusive environments can be guided to making different choices through their schools, places of worship, dialogues and opportunities of role models or mentors.
In more economically viable circumstances abused children and women have access to therapy, play therapy, relatives who can support them to get out of the cycle of abuse and finances which they can save to secure themselves an out someday, one day.
Abuse is abuse. It’s just the circumstances that are different.
In most societies, the women are the backbone, the proverbial rocks.
What can each of us do 365 days a year to raise awareness, offer support, and talk out and safely about abuse?
Until we do something for someone who won’t thank or acknowledge us, we should take on the responsibility to get there. Doing the right things starts in our own homes. Working towards a better world is a gift we can offer our children. We do need to be brave and bold, not rich or perfect.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn