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Survivors use experience to support abuse victims

A group of Tembisa women, once victims of domestic abuse, have joined together to encourage other victims and help them escape from abusive situations. Marcia Moyana writes that the Women Safety Promoters (WSP) as they call themselves, want to ensure that women from Tembisa who are victims of physical and sexual abuse receive support.

Because they too have been abused, they have a good understanding of the pain and trauma they are dealing with.

Ward 9 WSP chairperson, Rebecca Motseki is also a member of the Community Policing Forum (CPF). Five years ago a close relative was raped by her husband. The girl was 15 at the time, and Motseki helped her lay criminal charges against him.

Deputy Chairperson Selinah Mokoena 57, grew up in an abusive home and is also a rape survivor who was violated by a neighbour when she was eight years old.

“Growing up, I had a lot of anger towards my father who had tried to stab my mother three times. Whenever he was drunk, he would start being verbally abusive towards my mother and I. Being away from my mother always stressed me out, because I feared what I might find when I got home. The thought of her dying at the hands of my father made my childhood a miserable one.”

Abusive

Mavis Sithole, 39, was married to an abusive man who physically, verbally and financially abused her. Sithole’s husband would beat her up and threaten to kill her when he was drunk.

“My husband would give me R100 to buy groceries and expect the food to last for the entire month. I opened a business so I could get money to buy more food, but he stopped me from operating the business from home. The final straw was when my child told me that my husband would end up killing me if I did not leave and showed me a knife that my husband kept under the pillow.”

Most cases of rape and domestic abuse go unreported because the offender is usually known to the victim, and is frequently a member of the family. Some victims do not report the crime due to the fear of retaliation or intimidation by the offender. Some fear the humiliation of being exposed as a victim of rape in the community. Negative financial consequences also hinder families from reporting rape or abuse if the perpetrator supports them financially.

“When my husband raped [my relative], I felt helpless but I knew that I had to protect her. I could not allow him to get away with what he did, so I contacted Childline and also opened a case of rape against him.”

Motseki received a backlash from her in-laws, who blamed her for going against her husband by seeking justice for the teenager.

“Some family members felt that we should have dealt with the matter as a family, but I did not agree with them. I could not sacrifice [the child’s] well-being for my husband’s freedom. As an adult, he was responsible for his actions.” Her husband was arrested and is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence for rape.

Got away

Mokoena’s rapist, on the other hand, got away with the crime. “When my mother found out about the rape, she was shattered. But because the man was our neighbour nothing was done about the matter. Instead, our families ‘dealt’ with it and he was sent to live in another area.”

Most cases of rape and domestic abuse go unreported because the offender is usually known to the victim, and is frequently a member of the family. Some victims do not report the crime due to the fear of retaliation or intimidation by the offender. Some fear the humiliation of being exposed as a victim of rape in the community.

Mokoena has been left damaged. “I hated men and I had a lot of anger towards them. The fact that my father was a bad man made it harder for me to forget what I went through.” Her mother eventually divorced her father and Mokoena’s childhood improved.

Sithole thought her in-laws would help solve her marital problems but instead made things worse. “My father-in-law simply took my husband’s side and I was blamed for being a bad wife. He told me to learn to deal with my problems on my own and that is when I knew that I had to leave my husband. Moving back home was hard because my brothers would sometimes tell me to go back to my husband.”

The group of women meets on Tuesdays and reports back on the cases that they deal with and have come across. Motseki said that receiving counseling had helped them heal and forgive their abusers. She wanted other women to speak out against abuse and to seek help.

“We provide women with a safe space where they can learn how to deal with abuse. We also advise them to not just leave abusive relationships, but to also open criminal cases against their abusers. Most of them do open cases and then withdraw them once they have reconciled. This makes it hard for us to stop the cycle of abuse, but we do not give up.”

Despite the safety promoters being endorsed by the Gauteng Department of Community Safety, they do not receive any financial support from the department. This has made it difficult for the unemployed women to remain consistent in their fight against the abuse of women and children.

An edited version of this story was published by IOL.

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