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Updated 12 August 2013

Domestic scars tell stories

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked or excused. Acknowledging the warning signs is the first step to ending it.

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Domestic violence happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. And while women are more commonly the victims, men are also commonly victims of abuse - especially verbal and emotional abuse. Abuse often escalates from the verbal to the physical. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological costs are also severe.

Saartjie Baartman Centre’s Ilse Ahrends says that it is important to acknowledge all these forms of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial.

Read more about the different types of domestic violence.

Domestic violence shelters, support, and protection

Why doesn’t she just leave? Is the question many people ask when they learn that a woman is being abused. However, many people do not understand that it is the hardest thing to do. You have nowhere to turn to because you have been isolated from your friends and family, and you have no money of your own. “There was some research in the US some time ago that suggested that a woman leaves and goes back on average seven times before finally leaving ,” says Ahrends.

Where to go for help

You may be afraid of what your abusive partner will do, where you will go, or how you will support yourself or your children. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a dangerous, unhealthy situation. The risks of staying are too great.

Ilse Ahrends says: "Shelters generally offer short-term safe accommodation (three to four months), though some shelters are more like safe houses for emergency stays of a couple of nights. Most shelters offer individual and group counselling, and some form of skills training and psycho-education."

Here are a few steps to follow when you’re thinking of escaping:

  • Plan your escape. You have been isolated from friends and family and it might seem hard to get away on your own. However, if you think about it, and work out a plan, the day you leave you will know exactly what to do.
  • Know the signs of when your abuser is ticked off. Be aware of signs that your abuser may become violent.
  • Have a packed bag ready. Keep money, clothing, your ID, bank and credit cards, and important phone numbers and documents hidden in a safe place, or at a friend’s house.
  • Seek a place of shelter. Many organisations will help you. Call them. They will offer you a temporary home, until you get back on your feet.
  • Identify safe hideaways in your home. Know where to go if your abuser attacks. Avoid small, enclosed spaces without exits, in case you have to run. If possible, head for a room with a phone and an outside door or window.
  • Signal for help. Find a signal you can use to let your children, friends or neighbours know that they should call the police.
  • Be ready to leave quickly. Keep the car tank full and facing the driveway exit, with the doors unlocked. Hide a spare car key close to the car. If you do not have a car, keep a secret stash which has enough money for public transportation.
  • Take the kids with you. If you leave the kids behind, you will have reason to go back. Remember, custody is usually granted to the victim, and not the abuser.  Inform the school of the situation, your kids are going through this with you.
  • Get a protection order. If your abuser tries to hurt you, or use others to hurt you, he can be jailed for up to five years.
  • Taking steps to heal and move forward. The trauma of what you’ve been through can stay long after you’ve escaped the abuse. Counselling, therapy, and support groups for domestic violence survivors can help with what you’ve been through and teach you the skills  to build new and healthy relationships.
  • Don’t tell your abuser where you are. And make sure your friends and family do not disclose your whereabouts to your abuser either. Privacy is what keeps you and the other women and children at the shelter safe.
  • Utilise the shelter’s resources. Use the time and facilities in the shelter to seek employment, and to make alternative living arrangements for you and your children, perhaps at another shelter.


Sources:
Breaking the Silence: a Handbook for Victims of Violence in Nebraska;
Saartjie Baartman LegalAdvice and Training Project, 2010, Compiled by Sonnenberg Hoffmann & Galombik Inc., Attorneys, Notaries and Conveyancers;
Melinda Smith, M.A.; and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D, Help for Abused and Battered Women Domestic Violence Shelters, Support, and Protection November 2010

 
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