YONELA DIKO: Gender-based violence & the difficulties profiling an abuser
The challenge for everyone trying to understand the profile of an abuser, who try to find some differentiating traits between those who abuse and those who don't, is that there aren’t really any - at least none that would set an abuser apart and help society protect and preserve itself. All the excuses that are touted daily - alcohol and drugs, stress, mental problems, even culture - are not the differentiating factors. There are people who have these traits who don't abuse women. As many experts have concluded, these traits might make the violence more severe but they are not the cause or differentiating factor.
This has led to many researchers agreeing that domestic violence is a choice. This makes more sense, as some have noted, when one realises that people can be on drugs, be under heavy alcohol influence at office parties and even have mental illnesses, but don't assault women at work or their woman friends. They seem to do this only to women at home.
One man who beat his wife after just two weeks of marriage because he saw her dancing with another man took that choice gripped by jealousy, but he made that choice. Of course, when these choices recur, a pattern begins to emerge, and this is the only silver lining that researchers have found as they try to point out those who are likely to abuse women. This is observational, meaning it is something one partner will likely pick up only once inside the relationship, and unfortunately, this is usually after a woman may have already experienced abuse and may well be already stuck in the relationship and marriage.
Most abusers claim to lose control of their emotions, while others claim to blackout as they inflict the pain on their partners, creating an impression that if they just controlled their emotions, if someone could just advise them of how to handle what they feel, they would be better partners. This is however one more excuse from the abusers. As many experts have said, it is in fact about total control of another, not _losing _control. It is the need to dominate that drives the abuse, not the opposite. Losing control is another attempt by abusers to make themselves victims after they could not help themselves, have been provoked and insulted, and lost control like any person who is pushed.
Part of that control is what some experts have called "mate control" - violent attempt to try total control of your partner, so that they do everything you want, to stay when you want them to stay, to have sex when you want, because their refusal or attempts to leave will be met with severe punishment. This need for control is of course based on the internal realisation that, despite what you think of women and how much patriarchy cool aid you are drunk on, you actually have no control over a woman. They have their own mind, views, and choices and no amount of violence can make them less human than you.
PUBLIC RESPONSE TO ABUSERS
As already stated, the challenge in our inability to see an abuser walking down the streets results in a few problems. It means that by the time we find out about the abuse, they have already inflicted a lot of pain. Some experts have argued - correctly - that it is therefore wrong for the courts to then call some perpetrators first-time offenders. It logically makes sense that this person has been an abuser for much longer, and has gotten away with it until one of their victims found courage to come out. When abusers are outed by one partner, previous survivors also find the courage to come out. But a few things must be clear:
- Any report of violence to law enforcement and any witnessing of abuse by the public must be viewed with utmost seriousness because it is likely it's part of what has been going on much longer and under the radar. When a perpetrator is reported, that moment must be seized and the perpetrator be given punishment he long deserved. All statistics point to the fact that abuse against women is underreported.
- As with many problems in our society including women abuse, people's stations in society, levels of wealth, and race results in them being treated differently, only learn later that none of those things can differentiate between who is an abuser and who is not. Anyone is capable of abuse and women are required to move with caution and avoid giving unearned trust to people just because they are of a different race or are wealthy.
- The critical response from both the courts and the public in holding abusers and men in general accountable by monitoring their behavior, especially those who have been found to have abused women, is one of the important and decisive tasks. No one who is known to have abused a woman should walk around our streets freely as if nothing has happened. No one should attend family gatherings, live freely in communities when he is arrogantly and daringly abusing his wife and children. Families, members of the community, police must have zero tolerance to domestic violence and abuse of women and children.
THE WAY FORWARD?
Physical abuse is preceded by other traits that we all observe and witness as friends, parents and communities. When as a family or a group of friends, notice a sense of entitlement from the people around us towards their partners, the demand to be served or worshiped, the humiliation, always wanting to be a priority, controlling behaviour. It is irresponsible for us to turn our backs on such acts and accept them as something between two people alone.
When we notice that our friend is excessively jealous of their partner, isolates them from any contact with friends and strangers, shouts at them and demands sexual entertainment, especially when we see a very rigid "woman, know your place attitude", we are compelled to rebuke the attitude and interrogate if it has not resulted in abuse already.
Even when we're with people whose partners are not present, if someone is deceitful and a liar and takes advantage of others, we must be concerned about those who live with this person at home. An unstable friend whose behavior moves in extremes must be addressed by fellow friends and family members head on, before a woman is stuck with this person thinking she has judged them.
Those who are closer to abusers, as friends and family members, have a moral responsibility to protect new people who come into this person's life unaware of who they could be.
We have a duty to protect society, and not abusive friends and family members. It's in our hands!
Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on @yonela_diko.