Howick's house of harmony

2010-12-04 00:00

IT’S a sad but incontrovertible fact that South Africa is one of the world’s most violent nations — and women very often bear the brunt of it.

Leaving an abusive situation can be extremely difficult, making a mockery of the naïve question “So why do they stay?”

“The reasons [for staying] are often highly complex, and they vary from woman to woman,” writes Jane Boucher in her outstanding book Escaping Domestic Abuse.

“You may be lonely, depressed, or in poor health; you may lack self-esteem or self-confidence. Maybe you’re afraid of further abuse or violence; you may fear taking the risk of leaving. Perhaps you feel guilty. Perhaps you have no place to go, no family to take you in, and no access to money.” And that’s where safe houses come in.

Once an abused woman has made the life-changing decision to leave her abuser, her options are limited, particularly if she has few or no resources, but for these individuals the doors of places like Cornerstone Safe House in Howick are open.

Now, with 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children having just begun around the country, the women of Cornerstone are going to be highlighting the issue of domestic abuse by handing out pamphlets in conjunction with Howick SA Police Force.

Posters such as one bearing the slogan “It’s my life, it’s my responsibility” will be displayed and these brave women will help raise awareness of what is fast becoming a national crisis.

Cornerstone is set in a quiet suburban road in Howick and breathes tranquillity, which is made all the more ironic by the fact that it accommodates up to 15 women – and their children, if need be – who’re rebuilding shattered lives.

“This is an environment where women and children from the community and elsewhere are afforded the opportunity to move into a space away from any abuse, whether physical or emotional,” says chairman Darryl Kreutzner.

“In doing so they will be able to reassess their lives and, with help, be able to re-equip themselves for a new beginning, away from whatever it was that stripped them of their freedom and dignity.”

Indeed, at Cornerstone women are given not just the opportunity to escape the cycle of abuse, but to re-equip themselves for the future.

Right now residents are initiating self-sustaining projects through marketing crafts and through regular Life Skills sessions.

KATE (not her real name) is one of Cornerstone’s grateful residents. She came in five months ago, with her two schoolgoing kids, after emotional abuse from her husband became unbearable – and it’s worth noting that abuse is most certainly not only physical.

“Emotional abuse is a mental breakdown,” says Kate, with a brave smile. “You feel worthless, like you’re nothing. Being at Cornerstone has been a great help.”

Of course, myths about abuse abound – and just one of them is that the abused person (who is generally a woman) is at fault, which is something they themselves often believe.

“Domestic violence is not caused by alcohol use or drug addictions. People may try to blame domestic violence on substance abuse, but half of all batterers do not use drugs or drink,” writes Jane Boucher.

“Abuse does not happen because you cooked the wrong meal for dinner or because another man looked at you. It is not happening because you spent too long at the grocery store. It is not happening because your abuser just `snapped’ or is `out of control’.

“Just the opposite. Abuse is all about power and control. The abuser’s behaviour is quite intentional, and you are not to blame.”

•For more information on Cornerstone, or if you’re able to lend assistance in any way, call Darryl Kreutzner at 082 474 5084 or e-mail (Cornerstone falls under the auspices of Careline Crisis and Trauma Centre).

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