Trigger Alert: Why I stayed – an account of violent abuse

When will it end?
When will it end?

The hot slap blindsided me after we walked into his varsity dorm room following a fun night out with his friends.

I was 18 and he was 23.

Only poor, destitute and argumentative girls were beaten by their partners.

At least that was what I told myself. Only uneducated women had things like that happen to them.

I was in complete shock. My crime? I had embarrassed him by correcting him in what I thought was an innocently teasing manner in front of his friends.

I made excuses for him; put it down to stress of his upcoming final exams.

He sobbed with me following the slap. He was sorry and so I stayed.

We had been dating for a year. I loved him madly. He showered me with the attention, love and praise I had never experienced before.

He was totally besotted with me, spending every possible moment with me.

He was tall, drop-dead gorgeous to me, with piercing green eyes.

There had been numerous in-relationship rapes before. He was my first love and, in my young and unguided naive mind, I thought that it was perfectly normal for a boyfriend to insist on sex following numerous times of consent.

That’s what he told me.

I couldn’t deny him what I had given freely before.

I didn’t know I had agency over my body. It simply never crossed my mind.

On the occasions I now recognise as rape, I said NO and I meant it.

Still, he persisted, sometimes roughly. He was always sugar sweet in the aftermath.

In hindsight, I think it was because he knew he’d done something wrong and, in his own way, he thought he was making up for it.

I made excuses for him, and so I stayed.

Before that first slap that made my eardrums ring, the word ‘rape’ never crossed my mind.

Things like that didn’t happen to me or those in my social class – the privately educated.

My very first time having sex was three months after we started dating.

I was very proud of myself for having observed the 90-day rule my friends had failed at, at much younger ages.

In my circles, it was an anomaly that I was a virgin at 17.

You shouldn’t have had sex in the first place, I’d reason with myself. Now that you’ve given yourself to him, you can’t stop him. Shouldn’t.

I didn’t know I had agency over my body. It simply never crossed my mind.

We were a beautiful couple with a lot going for us. Both students, destined for a great future surrounded by two beautiful biracial kids, a cute dog and a house with a picket fence.

He is white. I am black. White men are not abusers or rapists, society wrongly preached. Globally.

And so, I stayed.

Then came the first slap a year later. Then bruises I would cover up with make-up.

The hot slap was a very different experience from the child abuse I had endured. I was paralysed with shock.

I “fell” often. I “hit myself against walls accidentally”. Or so I told people. I had all kinds of excuses.

And so I stayed.

Pregnant at the age of 18 with no real support other than that of my abuser, I never in my wildest dreams thought anyone would lay a hand on me except my father, who used to beat me until I was 14 years old.

Being beaten and emotionally abused had been normalised from a young age. Abuse was my reality, my normal.

The hot slap was a very different experience from the child abuse I had endured. I was paralysed with shock.

Keeping the baby following my rapes by my tormentor was a decision we made immediately after we found out I was pregnant.

I had had a forced abortion a few months earlier and told him I couldn’t go through that again.

He said he simply couldn’t bear the thought of murdering another baby.

The pregnancy was dramatic. Unaccepted by my parents, especially my mother – full of hypocrisy having supported other teenage pregnant girls as part of her work.

So my only support structure was my abuser and our friends.

The beatings continued. He once kicked me in the stomach. I bled and was hospitalised for a few days.

This country is a war zone that has declared women and children the enemy.

He sobbed with me and was sorry. Still, I stayed.

The baby was born on schedule after the fear that I would give birth prematurely. He was by my side and cut the umbilical cord that was physically connecting me to our gorgeous son.

Two months later, as I carried the baby in a harness, he slapped me again. My mouth bled.

I found the courage to summon his parents and my mother. Both mothers shared their accounts of abuse at the hands of their partners.

They urged me to go for therapy seeing as I wasn’t prepared to leave him.

He insisted on couple’s therapy, not individual sessions. So I stayed.

The beatings continued. I stayed.

The police intervened a few times after neighbours called for help. I denied the abuse. I stayed.

I lied to the therapist. I lied to my mother whenever she would ask how things were. I stayed.

One day when the baby was 10 months old, he kicked me in the head.

I finally realised he could one day kill me. And so I took my baby and ran to my mother who, spurred into action, forced me to live with her.

Finally, but not without drama, I left.

Fast forward to today. I have been through extensive therapy following two other toxic and abusive relationships.

I have learnt to understand why I stayed. Fear of my abusers. Fear of being outed. Embarrassment. Shame. Love. Low self-esteem. Survivor of child abuse. And many more reasons.

I am whole. I am healed. I will never stay. I am free.

The stigma and shame of abuse is not uncommon. It is prevalent in many communities, and doesn’t choose race, class or religion.

Sadly, the cycle of abuse is generational.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world.

Toxic masculinity is the order of the day. Women and children are beaten, raped and killed daily. Most at the hands of their loved ones.

This country is a war zone that has declared women and children the enemy.

It must stop.

*City Press has withheld the name of the writer

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