Expert Insight

Together We Can Stop and Eradicate Abuse (GBVH) Relationship Expert . Paula Quinsee

Approximately 1 in 6 men and 1 in 3 women experiences contact sexual violence in their lives, while 1 in 9 men, and 1 in 4 women experience Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

There has been a global spike in GBVH stats since Covid hit us:

  • France reported increase of 30% of domestic violence cases since March 17

  • Cyprus and Singapore reported increase in helpline calls of 30% - 33%

  • Argentina had increase in emergency calls for domestic violence of 25%

  • Canada, Germany, Spain, UK, and USA authorities all reported increased reports of domestic violence and need for safe shelters (Source: UN Women, 2020a)

In South Africa, 1 in 5 women is reported to be a victim of domestic violence at some point in her life. This is amongst the highest incidences anywhere in the world.

According to a 2014 study by KPMG, gender-based violence (GBV) costs SA between R28.4bn and R42.4bn a year — or between 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP annually, which is sadly, in line with global GBVH estimates.

If we want to address and eradicate abuse then it needs to be a holistic approach championed in the home, by Government and in organisations, and it needs to address both perpetrators and victims.

If there were no perpetrators, we would not have victims, yet often the responsibility is placed at the victim’s feet to change their situation and very little accountability is placed on the perpetrator.

Whether we want to admit it or not, gender-based violence happens daily in our homes, our communities, and our businesses. We can no longer ignore this silent, often violent killer, and the destruction it causes to individuals, families, and communities.

The unfortunate thing about GBVH is that it is often only associated with physical violence or rape. Very seldom are the other forms of abuse spoken about namely:

  • Psychological abuse

  • Verbal abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Financial and economic abuse

GBVH is also often associated with male on female abuse, but very little is spoken about female on male abuse, LGBTQI abuse, human trafficking and sexual harassment that takes place in homes, communities and organisations.

If we want to eradicate GBVH then we need to address GBVH across the spectrum – men, women, LGBTQI and children. If we want to eradicate GBVH then we need to address both victims and perpetrators equally because we do not have one without the other. If there were no perpetrators, there would be no victims.

Research shows that it can take up to 38 counts of abuse before a victim will reach out so even though they may disclose their situation, it does not necessarily mean they will leave their situation or their perpetrator. This is largely due to the stigma associated with GBVH and fear of repercussions for speaking up.

No one deserves to be abused, any form of abuse is unacceptable and goes against our constitutional and human rights which is:

  • The Right to Life

  • The Right to Personal Security

  • The Right to Physical and Bodily Integrity

  • The Right to Equal Protection under the Law

  • The Right to Freedom from Torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment

When someone is in an abusive environment, they often don’t seek help because of the stigma associated with the situation. There could also be historical contributing factors such as potential previous attempts of seeking help that went unassisted, or societal factors which often leaves victims disillusioned i.e.:

  • Lack of trust in the judicial system

  • Lack of awareness of laws that protect them

  • Lack of knowledge of their rights

  • Fear of repercussions at home, workplace, and in society

The burden of keeping the secret can severely impact a victim and result in increased anxiety, depression, symptoms of poor health, and more rapid progression of diseases such as high blood pressure etc

We need to be clear on where the roles and responsibilities lie across these 3 areas and actively participate, speak about, and engage in for changes to be sustainable for the longer term.

So, what does that mean exactly?

In the home:

Parents set the tone (culture and values) by which the family functions and thrives and this is where we as children get exposed to, and experience what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and gender stereotyping.

The stigma associated with asking for help, societal expectations and traditional gender roles all play a part in victims not speaking up about what they are experiencing. For men, the concept of ‘manliness’ as being strong and in charge can be seen as a weakness when they ask for help, and when men feel the pressure to appear strong, this can prevent them from opening up. It can also cause and exacerbate mental health problems with the biggest risk being suicide.

Children mimic their primary caregivers behavior which then becomes the norm for them. We learn about gender roles, how to respond and react to what gets acknowledged and what gets punished, and what the consequences are for our actions and behaviour.

We need to teach our daughters and our sons as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour by being conscious and aware of our own behaviour and the examples we are setting for our children as gender roles, in our families and in our communities.

In the workplace:

Sexual harassment is legislated under Employee Equity Act and provides a code of good practice on handling sexual harassment cases to eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment for employees.

Employers are therefore obliged to have sexual harassment policies and procedures in place, and to communicate this information to employees (i.e. training on what sexual harassment is and what the Co’s policies, protocols and procedures are.)

If employers don’t comply with legislation they risk being non-compliant and can be held liable (The R4million SH Case).

Living in a virtual working world, sexual harassment has moved from in the office to online, and the home is now the workplace. Employers are beginning to realise that some employees are not safe working from home as they are the hands of their perpetrator.

Leaders need to ensure sexual harassment awareness training is regularly undertaken to reinforce their stance on this issue, the policies and protocols they have in place and not just as an annual tick-box compliance exercise.

We need to teach employees what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour by being conscious and aware of the messaging being conveyed to employees on a regular basis and holding both leaders and employees accountable for their behaviour.

By Government:

Gov needs to lead by example in addressing this historical, ongoing pandemic (SA has the highest rape statistics in the world) through the allocation of the necessary resources and expertise to address this issue at a community level, a public sector level and in polices, bills and Acts that are representative and inclusive across all gender levels,  i.e. men, women, children and LGBTQ, and that it address all forms of abuse (physical, sexual, mental, verbal, psychological and financial).

Abuse is a learned behaviour; it is a choice to abuse, and the behaviour can be changed if the abuser is willing to take responsibility for their behaviour and make sustainable changes.

Often the underlying cause of violence is anger, and violence is the only way abusers know how to resolve (express) their anger, but what’s often underlying the anger is unresolved hurt and pain (past trauma) - and this is what needs to be addressed through therapy, rehabilitation, and healing.

We can no longer send abusers off to anger management classes whilst victims fear for their safety and grapple with the long-term effects of their trauma. Govt has a responsibility to provide the necessary funding, support structures and facilities to help both victims and perpetrators.

Together we are stronger and can stop abuse if we really want to but, it is going to take courage to stand up and say no more, this needs to stop by everyone of us being active citizens and putting a stop to this ongoing pandemic that affects us all.

What’s your choice going to be?

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