Breaking the cycle of abuse

Friday, December 3, 2021

After spending decades watching the abuse of her mother and then experiencing a decade of abuse from her own husband, Tarryn Draai  is breaking the cycle of violence and culture of silence.

“Speaking out is something that my mother didn’t do and this is something I was born to do. From a young age I always said that I never want to end up in a marriage or relationship that my mother was in but no matter how choosy I was with my partners and how careful I was, it still came to me.

“But as I stand here, I am quite honoured that I am breaking the silence. I don’t think God wanted me to get abused but maybe I had to go through it to break the cycle that was in my family even before,” she says.

The 31-year-old was among the speakers at the launch of government’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign led by Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

Draai endured physical, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband during a tumultuous ten years of dating and then marriage. The mother of one spent most of her life looking for signs of abuse and avoiding abusive men – even going to the extent of moving overseas.

Unfortunately, her watchfulness did not protect her from abuse and the emotional trap it left her in.

“The abuse started quite early in our relationship. But because I was in a vulnerable place already with being abroad…I felt like he was just my everything and back home, I didn’t even have a strong family structure to start off with.

“[The relationship] became very toxic with insecurity, jealousy and envy due to all of the stress in our relationship. Even if we did go to our church to our pastor for help, it was not consistent. The roots of the abuse weren’t being dealt with and it just kept coming back,” she recalls.

Dr Shaheda Omar – who is a member of the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence Committee – says witnessing abuse from a young age leaves children in “a flux of hyper vigilance” later in life with “startled responses, waiting for the next violent explosive episode”.

This is much akin to what Draai exhibited following her mother’s abuse.

“Children who witnessed gender-based violence and femicide; they are not merely innocent bystanders but became directly affected by it. The emotions they feel, the memories that are imprinted on them certainly affect their brains and also influenced the choices that they make in terms of life partners and other spheres of their lives,” explains Dr Omar.

Omar also highlights that gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) was historically regarded as a family matter.

“It was [an] internal issue and now this has changed. We have found that with it being declared a national pandemic, a lot [of] processes have been put into place and we’ve realised that it affects not only the mother but it affects the family – impacting on the children with long term implications for their safety and well-being.

“For many women, home has not been a place of safety…it’s been a place of danger and fear. They remain trapped in these places without any kind of support,” notes Omar.

Moving on

For Draai, the support she needed came in the form of a neighbour, the police and an anti-abuse non-governmental organisation (NGO). She was finally able to leave the abusive home she shared with her husband and child when a neighbour called the police during one of the couple’s more vicious arguments.

The neighbour’s intervention saved her life and gave her the courage to truly separate from her husband. However, it also presented another challenge where she had nowhere else to go because he knew where she would go after leaving the police station.

“The police came and took me but I really did not want to go back to the house and he knew where my family stayed. He knew exactly where I would run to. However, an NGO that works with the police gave me the option to go to a safe house.

“Going to a safe house and not a family member helped me stick it out. It helped me transition from being a victim to becoming a survivor because it is so easy to go back into [an abusive relationship] when family is involved. You don’t really deal with the root of the problem,” says Draai.

As a survivor, Draai has encouraged other women who are fearful of leaving their abusive partners, to be “brave and courageous.”

“I myself went to the police station and made a case and later withdrew it. I was also scared. But this is not the partner for you because if it was, you wouldn’t be feeling fearful. Do the necessary and courageous thing,” she says.

Government continues to take steps to address gender-based violence and femicide. Since the launch of the National Strategic Plan to Combat Gender-based Violence and Femicide (NSP) in 2020, there have been several interventions to respond to GBVF.

These include far-reaching legislative reform; support to survivors through the provision of evidence kits at police stations and psycho-social services; the establishment of a GBVF Fund and supporting the network of Thuthuzela and Khuseleka Care Centres.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the global 16 Days campaign that forms the centre point of government’s comprehensive 365 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children.

The campaign runs from 25 November to 10 December. –