Abuse: A Culture of Silence

2015-06-24 13:44

A school girl in the North West province was set alight in an alleged romantic revenge spat. Unfortunately such stories, as gruesome as they are, do not solicit the type of outrage and attention as they should from the public discussions in our country.

There can only be one reason for this apparent indifference to such a ghastly display of violence – we have seen it all before. It actually does not surprise us.

Just less than two years ago another school in KwaZulu Natal had been lured into a house by a woman and her friend who then proceeded to assault her repeatedly for apparently having an affair with the woman’s boyfriend. The stories of these two girls permeated public discourse because the latter’s story was captured on video which went viral on social media and the other was reported upon by the media. However the majority of abuse stories do not and will not find themselves being discussed on any public forum. The irony of course is that most people do not even need the media to tell them about abuse, they have already witnessed it in different ways.

It is as if there are two realities running concurrently which refuse to meet. The first reality is the public discourse reality that rightfully criticises abuse, especially of women, every time it becomes national news or public knowledge. However the other reality, the most worrisome, is that there is a culture of silence and shame around abuse. This culture of silence perpetuates the false belief that there very little abuse in society.

It is only when one bothers himself or herself to sit and explore their own community that they realise the staggering glare of violence and abuse.

Having grown up in a township myself, I am now surprised at how we were so exposed to so much violence and abuse. Too often we had to witness the some random guy beating her girlfriend on the streets. Too often we had to, in the night, listen to the harrowing screams emerging from our neighbour’s house. Townships are my reality, but I am very sure that abuse occurs in many other places in society even in the most affluent of places. Now more than ever we hear of cases of bullying in schools.

A good chunk of those stories remain unheard. It is often a source of great sadness, at least for me, to meet someone – often a women – who is in an abusive relationship yet they are trying so hard to make you believe that all is well. If we cared to look close enough we would be able to see their watering eyes behind their smiles. I cannot tell you how many women I have met who say their bruises are the result of a fall or from walking into the corner of a door or whatever reason they come up with. What is sad is that we (communities) accept whatever excuse even when we know that these persons are being abused.

The biggest reason of this culture of silence is that the very perpetrators of abuse are our own fathers, brothers, relatives and friends. It is for this reason that many cases of abuse are not even reported. Many people are conflicted because they want the violence to end but they cannot end it through criminal justice systems because it means they would have to have one of their own charged with a crime.

Sometimes a step towards the right direction is taken, police are approached. However some police are very slow to act on domestic violence and abuse and ultimately cases fall silent under the “domestic dispute” banner. I am of the opinion that if a census on violence, domestic in particular, was conducted we would be surprised that the majority of people in society have witnessed abuse in some form.

Fidelity to this pact of silence is so great that even when fatalities emerge from abusive situations some sordid story is created and murders are left to roam the streets freely because communities and families have chosen silence over pursuing justice for a deceased loved one. Granted these cases have their own nuances for example abusers also tend to be the same people who hold the family purse. To have them arrested would also mean that the family might not be able to sustain its livelihood. In many domestic cases these abusers are protected by those they abuse making it difficult for any kind of intervention to happen.

With all these nuances in mind and all these stories of abuse that we hear about daily we should never be fooled to think that they do not affect us. Our silence or our lack of action means our assent to injustice. Today in South Africa and indeed the world, someone knows somebody who is – or has suffered – abuse. These heinous crimes will not stop until communities and indeed all sectors of society begins to break the silence and allow the shame to rest not on the victims but of the perpetrators of abuse.


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