Clinical psychologist: How society can fight gender-based violence

Clinical psychologist: How society can fight gender-based violence

A clinical psychologist explains the root causes of gender-based violence and why so many women find it difficult to leave their abusive partners. 

Gender-based violence
Domestic Abuse/ iStock

Reports indicate that South Africa has one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the world. Every year, hundreds of women are buried due to their partners killing them. Sadly, the numbers keep increasing. 

READ: Domestic abuse survivor urges others to speak out about their abuse

Over the past two weeks, the deaths of Tshego Pule and Naledi Phangindawo, who were both allegedly killed by their partners dominated the news. The two are just a few of the women who have suffered abuse at the hands of their lovers.

"The women of our country feel unsafe in their homes, they do not feel safe in the workplace as well, at places of worship, and even just walking in the street.

"This is totally unacceptable situation and it must end. Young people and in particular young men must become more active in the fight against gender-based violence," said President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

READ: R17-million approved to support GBV victims: Solidarity Fund

Itai Propheta, a Clinical Psychologist, says there are several factors that cause gender-based violence. 

"The scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) has again reared its ugly head with many more examples of women, young and old, being abused and killed. While many may blame the lifting of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in increased levels of GBV, the problem of GBV is a long-standing issue that we as a society have failed to address. The several other causes of GBV which play a role. 

"As with any issue in society, it is important to define what GBV is, as it can occur in several different forms. These include: 

- Physical violence.

- Sexual violence (This includes both rape and sexual assault). 

- Psychological/emotional abuse.

- Denial of resources, opportunities or services.   

- Forced marriage

As you can see, GBV is not just limited to physical and/or sexual abuse and it is not a uniquely South African problem. While it is difficult to find accurate statistics, it is evident that South Africa does have very high rates of GBV with intimate partner violence being the most common form of GBV. "

Below, Propheta explains what contributes to the rise of domestic violence and how women can get out of abusive relationships. 

What do you think is the root cause of domestic abuse?

 In terms of what causes GBV, there is not one simple cause or factor but rather several factors at play. 

Some of the factors that are at play in GBV include culture and religion which place men in a powerful position in relation to women. Unfortunately, some of these cultures have practices which either explicitly or implicitly condone GBV. Some cultures, for example, forbid women to get divorced, and those that do are often labelled and carry a stigma that there is something wrong with them. The shame that many women feel stops them from getting the help they need.  

There are some individual factors which contribute to GBV. Some studies have shown that children who have been exposed to violence at home, are more likely to normalize violence in their relationships later in their lives. This includes children who have been abused themselves, or have witnessed violence between their parents or caregivers. Another factor is children growing up without a father, particularly for young boys. Children who have grown up in single parent households have been shown to be more at risk of committing GBV later on in their lives.  

Economic factors also play a role in GBV. Women who are financially dependant on their partners tend to be at a higher risk of GBV. Research has shown that women who are more financially secure are less likely to suffer from abuse and are more likely to leave abusive relationships. 

Alcohol and substance abuse, as we are well aware, is another factor in GBV. Alcohol and/or substance abuse has been linked to all types of interpersonal violence.  

Lastly, legal factors also play a role in GBV. While there are several laws, both local and international, that exist to protect women and girls, GBV still remains a big problem. Unfortunately, many women are often afraid to go to the police to report their partner’s crime. Police officers are often not properly trained to manage these disputes and leave women feeling unsupported and re-victimized.  

There have been so many campaigns against domestic violence, but abuse keeps on prevailing. What is your advice to those who find themselves in abusive relationships?

 There has been no shortage of campaigns to raise awareness around GBV. However, these campaigns are often short-lived and do not properly address the root causes of GBV. When reading through some of the causes of GBV, it is clear that these issues run deep and cannot be solved by campaigns that pay lip service to stopping GBV. Unfortunately, there is no simple cure for this problem but women who are currently in abusive relationships do have some avenues to access help. There are several organizations who are there to help women who have been the victims of GBV. These organizations offer shelter, counselling, food, skills-training and other services to help the victims of GBV get back on their feet. A list of these organizations will be available at the end of the article. 

READ: Why do some women remain in an abusive relationship for years?

Some men grew up witnessing abuse in their homes and continue with it when they grow up. How do we change the thought patterns of such men who think inflicting pain on a woman is normal? 

Unfortunately, there are many children in South Africa who have been and are being exposed to intimate partner violence in their homes, a place where they are meant to feel safe. There are also many children in South Africa who are being raised in single parent households. These risk factors can contribute to the increase of GBV. 

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this problem.  

It is imperative that victims of GBV reach out to friends, family, or organizations that can assist them in getting help. The sooner interventions take place, the better the outcome for the victim of GBV and the children.  

In terms of the law, do you think enough is being done to deal with abusers? If not, what more do you think should be done?

Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest obstacles facing victims of GBV. While there are laws that are there to protect women and children, the enforcement and policing of these laws often fails the victims. The perpetrator often gets away with their crime as the victim is usually afraid to report the crime. If the crime is reported, there are often obstacles such as having unsupportive police officials who do not want to get involved in the couple’s relationship, or do not believe the victim. 

It is important that victims of GBV seek out help as overcoming this problem is not something victims can achieve on their own. It is also not something that a victim should have to deal with on their own. Some of the NGO’s listed below help the victims of GBV access help and put pressure on law enforcement officials. In addition, counselling and therapy can also be really beneficial to help work through the trauma associated with GBV. If you have medical aid cover, speak to your medical aid to understand what your options are. Alternatively, there are some organizations who offer free counselling and support.  

Organizations who offer support and resources to victims of GBV: (This is by no means an exhaustive list)

Lifeline – 011 728 1347

The Frida Harley Shelter -

011 648 6005 or [email protected]

The Rape Crisis centre -

Rape Crisis Centre has a 24 hour Crisis Line 021 447 9762 and its head offices are in Cape Town.

Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training (Adapt) -

011 786 6608 or [email protected]

http://[email protected]

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) -

011 642 4345 or [email protected]

Sonke Gender Justice -

Shukumisa -

Image courtesy of iStock/ @warrengoldswain

READ: Leanne Manas on fighting the abuse of women and children

READ: Kagiso centre becomes a haven for abused men

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