Sixty one years ago, thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the apartheid state’s pass laws. Today women are fighting a different kind of evil: domestic violence.
In May, a survey by Stats SA and the South African Medical Research Council noted 21% of women over the age of 18 had reported experiencing violence at the hands of an intimate partner, with 8% experiencing it in the past year alone.
Janice*, a Goodwood mother of two, spoke to the Northern News about the verbal and physical abuse she endured during her 13-year marriage.
She reached the end of her tether on New Year’s Eve last year when her husband assaulted her in front her two girls, leaving her with a bruised jaw, back and arms.
“We had an argument, and he got physical. Earlier in the day, he pushed me onto the bed. His mother saw what was happening, but she did not do anything to help me or make him stop,” she said, adding that no alcohol had been involved.
She approached the Goodwood police victim support unit and its staff advised her to get a protection order against her husband.
“I decided to do it as I didn’t want to have him locked up.”
She said her husband had abused her twice before.
“Three years ago, while at a braai by his brother’s house, my husband tried to pull me out of the car after I told him that I wanted to go home. He was drinking and wanted to continue doing so.”
Two years prior he had pushed her to the ground at a music concert. “While on the ground, he started dragging me,” she said.
The woman praised the victim support unit for the help it had given her.
“I was so traumatised I went into a depression for 10 days and was prescribed anti-depressants. During that time, I refused to leave my bedroom.”
Her 10-year-old daughter is still traumatised and becomes upset when she senses any danger. “Both my daughters had to see social workers who helped them deal with what happened,” said Janice.
She has since filed for divorce and she and her two daughters have not had any contact with her husband.
Asked if there had been any tell-tale signs that her husband was abusive, she said: “No, there were no signs. However, I knew that he had a very bad temper. After the incident in December, he said I raised my voice at him and that is why he got physical with me.”
She urged women who are unhappy to leave abusive relationships.
“My kids and I are much happier now. At the beginning of the year, I had a hard time coping, but I am much better now.”
Maurisha Niewenhuys, the support unit’s coordinator, has been helping victims of crime in the area since 2009.
She joined the unit after seeing an advert calling for volunteers.
“I started eight years ago, and, at the time, there were only five volunteers. We are now 12 in total.”
The unit’s cases – of which there are about nine to 18 a month – are not all crime-related.
“I have counselled people who are grieving and people who are suicidal or affected after someone close to them had committed suicide,” she said.
When it comes to victims of rape, she said: “Before the police can take the victim’s statement, we try and calm them down; contain the situation and explain the procedure to follow. Many of the victims prefer us to accompany them to the hospital and there have even been times I have been asked by a victim to go with them to court.”
Ms Niewenhuys said domestic violence was common in Goodwood, but often it went unreported.
“Many times, women are afraid to lay charges or they later withdraw charges, which means the cycle of abuse just continues.”
You have to be emotionally and mentally strong to work at the victim support unit: a few years ago, Ms Niewenhuys was called out to a suicide at Vasco train station.
A schoolboy had decided to commit suicide after saying goodbye to his friend.
“The friend was completely shell-shocked after the incident. The driver of the train was quite shaken after the incident. It’s important that as a volunteer you don’t absorb all the cases you come across,” she said.
Ms Ms Niewenhuys urged women to stand up for what they believe in.
“It is quite challenging being a women in today’s society, as we have to juggle work and family responsibilities. We as women are the mirrors to our daughters, nieces and grandchildren, and we need to be good role models for them.”
* The unit needs baby clothes, for cases involving abandoned infants, and rape-survivor kits comprising facecloth, toothbrush, comb, underwear and soap.
If you can help, call 072 938 1597.
* Not her real name.