Domestic Violence, is the man always the abuser?

2013-02-16 08:24


"Domestic Violence, Rape, Abuse of women remains disgraceful blots on the reputation of a country that is called a miracle nation". - @NelsonMandela

The Reeva Steenkamp tragedy may be one of hundreds of similar tragedies that play themselves out across South Africa each year. Although the current "trial by media" may have tipped the scales of justice in favour of a domestic violence incident  the law must take its course and one must assume that a person is never guilty until proven otherwise by a court of law. One can just hope that the massive media spotlight, whether right or wrong, focused on this incident will direct attention to the broader problem in our country and prompt the policy initiatives necessary to combat it more effectively.

One question that must be addressed in South Africa is whether existing policy provisions, such as the Domestic Violence Act and firearms laws aimed at denying access to guns to persons implicated in domestic violence incidents, are being properly implemented by the authorities.

Women being abused

Around the world, at least 1 in every 3 women has been beaten, intimidated into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Mostly, the abuser is a member of his/her own family. It is believed that Domestic violence is the principal cause of injury to women more than car accidents, robberies, and rapes combined. Studies around the world suggest that up to 10 million children worldwide witness some form of domestic violence annually. Statistics gathered from 10 countries indicated that between 55 % and 95% of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for any help. Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice more likely to abuse their own wives than sons of non-violent parents according to these studies.

The South African Institute of Race Relations said an average of 2 488 women had been murdered every year over the past six years. In 2007 there were a staggering 2 602 women murdered in the country. If data for all violent assaults, rapes, and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200 000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year. The real figure is in all probability considerably higher, as evidence suggests that reporting rates may be significantly lower than the number of incidents taking place every year. Thus on average about 2500 women are murdered each year in South Africa.

In a recent SAPS Annual Report on crime statistics which note that a docket audit of murder cases revealed that domestic related issues were the single most common cause associated with the murder of females and accounted for almost 30% of all female victims. The other category of circumstances that accounted for more female than male victims stemmed from jealousy and/or love triangles. Thus 41,6% of female murder victims died in incidents related to either domestic violence or situations linked to jealously or love triangles, whereas only 7,1% of male victims were murdered in similar circumstances.

Men being abused

Domestic violence is often seen as a female victim/male perpetrator problem, but evidence demonstrates that this may be a skew picture. A British Crime Survey had shown that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year and the statistics is climbing. It was also found than one-half of the domestic assaults involving deadly weapons were actually against men. The number of women convicted of domestic abuse in the UK has increased fourfold in the last 7 years, from 806 in 2004/5 to 3,965 in 2010/11. However, of all prosecutions for domestic violence in England and Wales, approximately 93% of them are against men.

It is believed that men under report incidents of domestic violence targeted at them, and society downplays the scale of male suffering, and in many cases, refuses to acknowledge that it exists at all. In fact, recent studies are increasingly showing that large numbers of men are affected by domestic violence. A recent Canadian study found that women are 4 times more likely to report partner violence to police than men, and concluded that men who are involved in disputes with their partners, whether as alleged victims or as alleged offenders or both, are disadvantaged and treated less favourably than women by the judicial system. Violence against women should not be tolerated, just as violence against men should not be tolerated.

Over the years governments around the world spend millions on campaigns to encourage women to report domestic violence and to seek help, with no similar campaigns targeted toward male victims, or provisions made for them. The  negative stereotyping of men as aggressors and women as victims has no doubt obscured men’s suffering from society’s view.

Is the man always the abuser?

The answer is a definite no. There is however debate about the rates at which each gender is the subject of domestic violence.  Some studies suggest that men are less likely to report being victims of domestic violence due to social stigmas. Both men and women have been arrested and convicted for domestic violence for assaulting their partners in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Martin S. Fiebert of the Department of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach, compiled an annotated bibliography of research relating to abuse by women on men and he suggests that consensus in the field is that women are as likely as men to strike their partner but that as expected women are more likely to be injured than men.  Fiebert did however note that his work was not meant to minimise the serious effects of men who abuse women.

Removing someone's firearm

The Domestic Violence Act can be used to ask that the abuser’s firearm or dangerous weapon be removed in the following cases:

If the abuser has told the complainant or children that he wants to kill or injure any one of them or himself or;

If it is not good for him to have a firearm or dangerous weapon because his mental condition or state of mind is not stable, he has a habit to be violent, with or without a firearm, or he uses or is dependent on alcohol or drugs.

When applying for a protection order, the complainant can request the removal of the respondent’s firearm or dangerous weapon. If the Magistrate orders the police to go to remove the firearm, the police will keep it until the case is finished. The weapon can only be returned to the abuser by order of court and the court can add conditions. The court can also order that the State keeps the weapon if it is in the interests of the safety of the person. The weapon will be returned if, on the return date, the interim protection order is not made final. If the police fail to comply with the court’s order that they seize the weapon, this is misconduct and the officer should be reported to the Station Commissioner or the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD).

The following may be signs that you are in an abusive relationship

Do you:

Feel afraid of your partner/spouse most of the time?

Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner/spouse?

Feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner/spouse?

Believe that you deserve to be hurt or abused?

Wander at times that you are the one who is crazy?

Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Does your partner/spouse:

Often humiliate or yell at you?

Criticise you and put you down?

Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

Ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?

Blame you for their own abusive behaviour?

See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Does your partner/spouse:

Have a bad and unpredictable temper?

Hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?

Threaten to take your children away or harm them?

Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?

Force you to have sex?

Destroy your belongings?

Does your partner/spouse:

Act excessively jealous and possessive?

Control where you go or what you do?

Keep you from seeing your friends or family?

Limit your access to money, the phone or the vehicle?

Constantly check up on you.

Effects of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence have serious effects on a person, such as depression, suicidal feelings, extreme low self-esteem, feelings of being ashamed or utterly worthless, self-hate, anger or difficulty regulating feelings. Victims do find it extremely difficult to trust people. Many victims who are trying to cope  may also turn to alcohol or drugs so as not to feel the physical and emotional pain. Many victims also come to the belief that since the abuse worked against them it can also work for them if they exert the abuse onto someone else. For example a victim may resort to abusing his/her children.

What happens if a protection order is breached?

If a person is found guilty of violating a protection order, a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or both, may be imposed.

Bertus Preller is a Family Law Attorney at Abrahams and Gross Inc., in Cape Town, follow him on Twitter: @bertuspreller


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