About 39% of women and children have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime according to the Western Cape Gender Based Violence indications. Most of the violence is believed to have occurred in places of safety like in their homes and communities. Violence against women and children in South Africa is among the highest in the world, and the perpetrators are mostly known members of the community.
More in particular, domestic abuse impacts the lives of children in a number of ways. Some of the most widely reported ways include: witnessing the abuse of their mother, being directly abused themselves, and being a pawn in the abuse.
Research has furthermore revealed that 86% of children were either in the same or adjoining room during an incident of domestic abuse, 73% saw their mothers being violently assaulted, and 10% had witnessed sexual violence.
Children living under these dire situations have to carry the burden of witnessing violent acts on a daily basis. This could mean hearing threats or arguments from another room. Children may also observe the aftermath of physical abuse such as bruises, tears, blood, broken items, tension and fearfulness.
The impact of child abuse
Adams Tucker, child and clinical psychologist says: “Because children are unable to fully understand or explain the impact of abuse, professionals usually rely on the development of symptomatic behaviours to signal underlying emotional difficulties. The most common problems exhibited by child victims include effective disorders, anxiety and fear.”
Tucker adds that: “Physical abuse may result in a number of biological consequences, including death, brain damage, mental retardation, learning disabilities and sensory deficits. It is estimated that between 25 and 30 percent of abused children who survive the abusive conditions have brain damage or neurological dysfunction resulting directly from physical trauma.”
The impact of trauma
Tucker also defined trauma as an emotional shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to an individual’s psychological development. He says: “Trauma also refers to overwhelming, uncontrollable experiences that psychologically impact victims by creating in them feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, loss of safety and loss of control. Although other emotional reactions may be seen, these are the states most likely to be present and to be uncovered by a psychologist.”
Research has suggested that the impact of trauma on a child may have lifelong psychobiological consequences, depending on the developmental stage of the child at the time of trauma, his/her coping abilities and the meaning of the event to the child.
Children who grow up in abusive homes are expected to keep the family secret, sometimes not even talking to each other about the abuse. The innocent souls can pretend so well and look fine, but deep down they are affected and going home from school is no longer a happy feeling anymore. If one is lucky enough to go hang with others, they are usually the last ones to leave the mall to return home.
Long term effects of witnessing abuse
Whether or not children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. The sad reality about all this is that, these children in most common cases are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development. This however has the potential to carry on with their lives and usually making life very much difficult for them. Some grow up not realising it is important to love others and be loved as well. In many cases most of these victims do not last long in relationships when they are old, and those that do, also tend to practice the violence they had to endure while growing up on their life time partners. In some extreme cases, others lose the meaning and value of life.
In an interview conducted with the Western Cape MEC for Community Safety, Dan Plato spokesperson, Ewald Botha says: “Everyone deserves to feel safe from abuse, violence and crime. Everyone deserves to want to get the best out of life opportunities, development and success, which includes women and children as equally deserving.”
Botha added: “Where there is abuse, there is fear and there is a need to replace the fear with a feeling of safety.”
“The Department of Community Safety in the Western Cape is implementing a comprehensive 16 Days of Activism Campaign that will increase awareness and strengthen efforts towards reducing violence against women and children through various activities around the theme : SPEAK OUT- SILENCE TO STRENGH,” added Botha.
“We need this safe space for all of us not only during the period of 16 Days of Activism against no violence against women and children, but every single day going forward.”
“We are all here to say there is help, change is possible- it can be better. We are here to support women and children in particular who face abuse, to work with men and boys to change the current culture of violence that exists in some families and communities, and to ask the courts to deliver strong sentences against perpetrators found guilty of violence against women and more especially children,” concluded Botha.
Let us be the change that we want to see. The problem these women and children, and in some cases young men face cannot be ignored and we, collectively, have to address them.
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