Support needed for women who lay abuse charges

The Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Doreen Sioka recently made a speech urging women who lay charges of domestic abuse not to withdraw them. This is an admirable speech, but where are the tangible, effective programs to help these women once they step up and demand justice?

Women are predominantly the victims of domestic violence. Most back away from their initial charges of abuse for a variety of reasons.

Ignorance leads to charge withdrawals. We must eradicate the ‘belief’ in the community (and the disinterested, misogynistic police officers taking these reports) that women ‘deserve’ or are the cause of their abuse.

It has been reported that the police tell women report abuse that they are trouble makers; they call them liars. Until we take the long, hard road of aggressively educating against domestic violence – we will never change attitudes.

Domestic abuse is a reality in most homes, whether reported or not. It is the ‘dirty little family secret’. Everyone knows about it; no one speaks about it.

Family violence can take on many different forms. This includes: intimidation, isolation, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse.

Destroying another person is an abuse of power within a relationship or after the break-up. There is absolutely no love in an abusive relationship – but people do not easily accept this. Domestic abuse is not a ‘lover’s quarrel.’ Let us not insultingly belittle the murder of a woman’s soul in such a way.

When that man punches his girlfriend or wife in the face society joins in on the abuse by whipping her on the back with a sjambok. Everyone around the situation chastises her for complaining. Family and friends join in on the abuse. Some beaten-down women tell the victim, “I have been hit many times by my husband and yet, I am still here. Why should you complain?” “Marriage is always like that for all of us. We women must just take it and move on.” Often respected aunties, mothers and grannies work the hardest to silence a woman who dares to demand to be safe in her own home.

There is an ugly irony in society’s rebuke of a women fighting against domestic abuse. All of those involved in or witnessing her nightmare have been abuse victims themselves at some point in their lives. One could believe that those who have been victims would be more willing to support a fellow victim. But, that is not the case. They are often the victims’ worst critics.

Women withdraw charges because the person they are accusing lives with them or is someone about whom they have confused emotions.

Some victims recant when they lay charges because the perpetrator threatens more violence. Men get released on bond or hear about the charges and intimidate or beat up their accusers again.

Studies say that the abusers mostly use emotional appeals designed to minimize their crimes and play on the emotions and sympathies of the victim.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you…I love you.” “I’ll never do it again.” “I cannot find a job and I am under so much stress – why are you making it worse?” “You know that when you don’t have my dinner ready when I get home, it makes me angry. I wouldn’t get angry if you do your part.” “I’ll kill myself if you lay charges.” “Darling, I miss you and the children so much.”

Abusers know which of their victims’ emotional buttons to push.

Most victims of domestic abuse succumb to these pressures. Minister Sioka, police, prosecutors and the judgemental public should not be surprised at this. The deck is stacked against victims of domestic abuse from the start.

Women recant their charges because their abuser is the family breadwinner. Are we saying as a society that if you are poor it is ok to be beaten and dehumanized since the criminal doing it puts food on the table? This cannot be the case and yet, that is what is happening.

Namibia should look at how other countries support domestic abuse victims. We should duplicate some of their applicable programs. It is hard for abuse victims to run the gauntlet all alone.

Speeches lambasting women for withdrawing charges, should be changed. Rather, announce fully-funded programs to assist women who have chosen to lay charges. And those who have been victims must rise up en masse as the first line of support for their fellow victims.

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