Johannesburg - South African women are more likely to be brutally assaulted or even murdered when they finally decide to initiate divorce or end an abusive relationship.
This is according to a Medical Research Council (MRC) study published in 2013, which shows that a woman in South Africa is more likely to be killed by her intimate partner than by a stranger.
While this study is not recent, it remains the official reference point as there is paucity of research on violence against women in South Africa due to lack of funding in this field.
The study found that every day four women are killed in South Africa, three of those are killed by their intimate partners and the other by a non-partner.
Professor Naeemah Abrahams, lead author of the MRC study, said the stage when women finally decided to initiate divorce or end an abusive relationship was often the most vulnerable phase for them.
Partners reacted violently when a woman decided she had had enough, and she was trying to find a way of getting outside help, such as an application for a protection order or reaching out for help from support groups, experts, family members or friends.
South Africa has seen a spate of brutal murders and rapes of women across the country recently. At least 10 women have been raped, or murdered and dumped in the past week. Five of the women who were killed were found in Gauteng and include Karabo Mokoena, who was allegedly killed and then burnt by her boyfriend.
Abrahams could not say whether recent incidents of violence against women meant that femicide was on the increase or not.
“If we look in the media at the number of cases of women and children murdered since January, it is extremely worrying. I don’t know whether it is an increase in reporting or signalling an increase in incidents of violence against women,” Abrahams said.
“But I have a gut feeling we are seeing more of it and I wish I had money to repeat the study so that we can know for sure what is happening in our country.”
In the study released in 2013, which was based on research conducted in 2009, MRC researchers analysed information on female homicide victims aged 14 years and older who they identified from mortuary registers. The researchers collected cause of death data from autopsy reports and verified other information through police interviews.
They then compared these results with a similar study they conducted on homicides in 1999. They found that in 2009, there were 930 murders of women compared to 1 052 in 1999. They also found that the overall rate of fatal rapes – women raped and killed – was 3.4 per 100 000 women in 1999 compared with 2.5 per 100 000 in 2009.
The researchers found that there was only a 1.11% chance of conviction of perpetrators of intimate femicide. The conviction rate was even lower – 0.32 – when a woman was killed by a non-partner.
Abrahams said she doubted that conviction rates had improved over the years because the police often didn’t take violence against women seriously.
“We read in the media that Karabo had gone to the police to get an interdict against her boyfriend, but she was allegedly [told] to sort out the problem with her partner. We hear similar stories every day.
“We know the police are frustrated because the issue of violence against women is complicated; women don’t leave their husbands very easily and they do change their minds.
“At least what the police should do is identify that this woman who came to report is at higher risk [of being a victim of female homicide] than normal and assist her with a way out of the relationship,” Abrahams said.
She said research had also found that women experienced violence or were killed by their partners when they decided to end an abusive relationship.
“When we looked at what the conflict was about just before the women were killed, we found it was about the woman initiating divorce or about to end the relationship.
“It’s at this stage where the woman has a kind of ‘I’ve had enough’ standpoint, and she is trying to find a way of getting outside support,” she said.
Abrahams explained that women don’t often leave immediately.
“It takes a while for them to understand that this man is not going to change and the violence won’t stop. Even when they do realise that they are in danger it is often not easy to leave.
“There are many factors that contribute to them staying in abusive relationships. Some women don’t have the economic power to leave.”
She said women in abusive relationships and marriages were often embarrassed to say: “I am with a man who beats me.”
In Mokoena’s case, it is reported that she also found herself in a similar situation. Her friends told City Press last week that she found Sandile Mantsoe “irresistible” despite the abuse she allegedly suffered at his hands.
Last month, she finally decided to leave him. A few weeks later she was dead, allegedly killed by the man she loved.