How to help victims of gender-based violence this holiday

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Being in an abusive relationship can be an extremely lonely experience for the victim as the abuser may groom and isolate them from others to an extent that they do not know who to trust and doubt their own reality.
Being in an abusive relationship can be an extremely lonely experience for the victim as the abuser may groom and isolate them from others to an extent that they do not know who to trust and doubt their own reality.
Margoe Edwards/Getty

South Africa is no stranger to gender-based violence (GBV) and with the festive season in full swing, we need to be more vigilant than ever.

This is a time when more people are at home taking December leave and when alcohol consumption is likely to be high. For these two reasons alone, it’s crucial to be on the lookout for the safety of loved ones and not turn a blind eye when you suspect they may be victims of abuse.

Although it’s not a good idea to get physically involved as it might put your life in danger, there are still things you can do to help. Not least, get professional assistance so cases can be reported to the police and the victims can get psychological support.

Read more | 16 Days of Activism | Numbers you can call if you’re a victim of gender-based violence

Spotting the signs of GBV

It may not be easy to identify if a friend or family member is a victim of GBV, registered counsellor, Shirley Masemola tells Drum.

After all, perpetrators usually perform their crimes behind closed doors, and they are good at emotional blackmail and persuading their victims to not tell anyone about what they are going through. This means victims may suffer in silence until their last days.

However, with close attention you may be able to see signs, Masemola says.

“It may be difficult to note or identify at first, however, you will start noticing changes in their behaviour.

“They no longer go out, or if they do, they constantly report and/or inform their partner of their whereabouts.

“They start isolating themselves from society. You might notice regular absenteeism from work to hide their bruises. And if they do come out with their bruises, there will be reasons for them that may not make sense,” Masemola says.

Also check out the partner’s behaviour if you suspect that GBV is happening in a relationship. Some of the common signs include excessive jealousy and possessiveness, unpredictability, a bad temper, cruelty to animals, verbal abuse and extremely controlling behaviour. You might notice they embarrass or humiliate their partner in public or blame them for everything bad that happens.

Read more | OPINION | If we're not spending on GBV prevention, it's already too late

Supporting the victim

If someone close to you is showing signs of being abused, it is important to do what you can to support them and try to get them help, Masemola says.

The first step if you think they may be in danger is to find out if your suspicions are correct.

“The easiest way to do this is to ask them. But this is a sensitive subject so you want to ensure you don’t offend them because the perpetrator may be someone they love. The victim may not be open immediately or may make excuses for the change in their behaviour,” she says.

“The best way is to create a safe space in which you inform the victim of the changes you have noticed and let them know it’s okay for them to be honest with you. Respect their privacy and don’t push to want to get them help without their consent.

“Try to not come across as judgmental, but rather empathise with the victim and reassure them that their story is safe with you,” Masemola says.

Once the victim has trusted you with this information, you will need to assist them in the best possible way without them feeling like you’re imposing. Asking their permission to contact the police or government emergency lines for abuse is the first step.

“You can also offer practical assistance if you are able to, like a place to stay, connecting them with a therapist, empowering them, providing resources, and accompanying them to therapy when they are ready,” she adds.

Masemola stresses that overcoming abuse is a long journey and getting counselling is an important part of the healing process. A therapist will help them regain self-confidence, esteem, self-love, and allow them to work on self-compassion and forgiveness.

She adds that the friend who is helping the victim may also need professional assistance.

“They may be experiencing vicarious trauma, which is secondary trauma, and may not know what to do with the overwhelming feelings and emotions. They may also need support to avoid compassion fatigue and giving up on the victim.”

Numbers to call

Saps emergency number 10111

People Opposing Women Abuse 011 591 6803

LifeLine Stop Gender Violence helpline: 0800 150 150

ForWomen helpline: 0800 428 428

Childline 0800 055 555

The Trauma Centre 021 465 7373

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