It is instructive to listen to Mpho Segale as he goes into analytical overdrive about domestic abuse. The phrase covers a multitude of sins.
As he ventures inside the head of a domestic bully, the Counsellor with the Kagisano Society Women’s Shelter Project provides a peep show into the many hidden corners of domestic abuse: “The perpetrator probably has generations of influence in this regard. They have learnt the behaviour. They may have seen their parents either beating or being beaten and now think it is a custom”.
This opens another front in the fight against domestic abuse: Ensuring that the cause is not blindsided by history repeating itself. The society has to provide support to a legion of children who are at risk of becoming “hidden victims” raised on a daily diet of domestic abuse and producing the next generation of intimacy terrorists.
A conversation with Lemogang Ketshabile, the Life Skills Facilitator suggests that another storm may be massing right under our noses. Botswana may find itself saddled another attendant crisis: The “hidden homeless”, not roofless, technically-speaking, and therefore not a government statistic. The shelter has been operating since 1998 and provides a safe haven or refuge for women and children who are either abused, experiencing marital rape, incest or any other gender based violence (GBV).
Ketshabile clarifies that the shelter is a ‘transitional place’. “We assess the women for admission. Once admitted they get three (3) months counselling and then are discharged back to society.
The common perception of a homeless person is of a young man, sleeping rough and begging for money. But for women escaping domestic violence, particularly women with children, the street is not an option; they usually end up in temporary accommodation like Kagisano Society Women’s Shelter Project.
Ketshabile explains that their immediate aim is to reduce the level of violence and to assist and empower the victim to become a survivor.” In instances of physical violence being experienced by the victim, the client is sheltered immediately to keep them from further harm or until the perpetrators emotions have settled. The focus on women is due to the statistics which reveal that mainly women and children get abused. The shelter does however admit the boy child who is less than 13 years of age. “We are not saying men don’t get abused, their numbers are not as high,” adds Lemogang. The shelter provides counselling for both the abused and the perpetrator, where possible.
Women and children who are admitted at the shelter and are between the ages of 18 ÔÇô 35 years particularly those who have had a ‘rocky upbringing’ or grew up disadvantaged are taught life skills to help boost their self esteem; how to be assertive and raise your self-confidence, how to reduce and manage stress and anger management. For those who need education they are assisted to join the government ‘back to school’ initiatives. “Those needing jobs, we try our best to source some for them,” shares Mpho. The shelter is divided into two; the drop-in-centre, where the clients come to report their story and the ‘place of residence’ which is a secret location. “This is to prevent the perpetrator coming after their wife or partner and possibly harming the other residents,” explains Mpho.
Mpho, who happens to be the only male counsellor at the shelter and is also married, explains that there is still a perception that abuse happens to a particular person, a specific woman. “Initially people thought it was the poor or unemployed, who get abused. Majority of our clients are gainfully employed women, with good jobs. They still get abused because abuse is about control and power.” Lemogang reiterates this point, “GBV cuts in all spheres, rich, poor, educated or not, Christian, Muslim, black or white. It takes many forms, it is multifaceted. Some religions have certain perceptions on GBV and don’t want to think outside the box. No one is immune.”
Kgomotso Kelaotswe, one of six counselors available at the shelter, says perpetrators have different dispositions. “They are different abusers and different stages of abuse. Some enjoy a different form of abuse to another. There is physical, emotional, social, financial or sexual abuse. Nothing is systematic.” She elaborates that sexual abuse is not that common in Botswana and that social abuse is when the perpetrator prevents the partner from social interaction; stops them from seeing friends and relatives or does not allow the partner to progress socially by stopping them from working or studying.
In Lemogang’s opinion the worst kind of abuse is emotional. “With the emotional kind the perpetrator makes the victim feel pathetic. With physical abuse you can at least try to shield yourself from the pain; if you cut me with a knife my body will naturally try to heal itself and the scar will form. Emotional impact is largely in the mind and the mind is not easily controlled.” She cites an example of someone coming from a war-torn area, such a person has a lot more emotional resilience because of the environment they are coming from. The same applies to a child raised in a loving and caring environment they are more emotionally intelligent and will easily create a barrier between them and the potential abuser.
There are peak periods for abuse; when the woman is pregnant, month-end, summer and during holidays or breaks.” When the woman is pregnant, she is seen as vulnerable by the abuser who takes advantage of the condition. During month-end the husband or partner will squander the money, with no consultation with their wife or partner and when she requests money for school fees, uniforms and food to feed the children she gets abused. In winter even the abuser needs to cuddle due to the cold weather however come summer time the perpetrator displays his power by staying out late and rarely being home and when asked for his whereabouts resorts to abuse in response. Holidays and breaks increase the use and intake of alcohol and drugs which further inhibit and limit the decision making capabilities of the perpetrator or makes them even more aggressive. “This is not an environment where you are able to negotiate safe sex so GBV makes the women and children vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection,” adds Lemogang.
Counseling is a learning curve, says Kgomotso, and they are only human. “When you see a woman walking in here with bruises, cuts all over her body, bruises you know are not self inflicted, it really hurts to see.” The abuser who wants to prove ‘he can do it’ likes to hit the face, the chest and the behind (buttocks). When the buttocks are painful one can barely sit down. The abuser who tries to hide their tracks will select places that are hidden like the back, thighs and the stomach areas. Solving this equation would be simpler if one could spot the abuser prior to the abuse. Mpho adds that the abuser can be tricky. “They may start the abuse only at the honeymoon stage.” Of course there are signs to look out for like the actual beatings, or being taunted and told ‘you are cheap’, or your partner being distracted or creating distance between the two of you or coming up with excuses not to see you. They may even compare you to their ex-partners.
“When he is an angel one day and a devil the next, immediately confront him. Put your foot down. Risky as it, at least you took a stand rather than do nothing at all. Make the decision.” Lemogang is advising us to nip it in the bud and not to play any encouraging roles. What she has noticed is that the woman will tell the man the relationship is over because of the abuse, and then tells him to come back, and then tells him it is over again. “If someone was to slap you all of sudden, your reaction to that very first slap is what is critical. If it happens again and you don’t take a stand you will basically be helping to breed the abusive environment. Men are also abused. There is no plain formula here but you have the power to turn things around, it is up to you. Setlhako go fisa sa gago.”
Kgomotso emphasizes that they do not accept relapses; they do not re-admit any clients. “The moment people relapse they think of the shelter but unfortunately we don’t re-admit. A relapse is so crippling to the individual affected and it is contrary to the advice and counselling they received. After providing the necessary skills, spending hours counselling you and then you decide to walk out of the shelter and do the opposite, we cannot help you further than that. Much as we know we are not perfect as counselors we just do not accept a relapse.” Another reason they do not re-admit is because there is no space. The shelter accommodates only sixteen (16) women at a time.
The counsellors reveal that they have a good and working relationship with the Police and where need be they attain ‘court orders’ or ‘protection orders’ from the courts to ‘threaten’ the perpetrators with. “A woman who has access to these is much better off, than the one without,” says Lemogang, who has also noticed that ‘domestic issues’ are not as straight forward to resolve. “It is easy to remove a child from an abusive environment as compared to an adult, who is deemed as able to make their own informed decisions.”
Another complexity to this relationship is that abuse is reluctantly reported, even by the abused. However, if left to fester abuse can lead to situations where one partner kills another in what has been termed locally as ‘passion killing’. In cases where there are ‘threats to kill’ the client is advised to report it to the police. “We have only had one threat to kill case reported to us this last year.” Many factors have been sited as deterrents to reporting abuse. The mind set of the society towards abuse being one. “Marriage is placed in high esteem in our society and we as people are afraid of rejection. An abused woman may wonder why she must shame her family by reporting this man. Or she could ask herself why she must fight something ignored by multitudes,” says Kgomotso. Despite this, Lemogang reminds us that, “If society cannot build you, you must try to build yourself. I look at this individually; are you going to allow the abuse to happen?”
Natasha Tlagae, the communications person believes that for as long as the issue of abuse is not a priority for the media, it will remain a social problem. She reckons that if it is in the news (media) it will be easier to acknowledge and see what has been done and what else needs attention. “We are a hush-hush, peace inclined society but violence in our homes is high. With abuse its either you’ve been there or you know someone who has. Maybe society is turning a blind eye for fear of dealing with it.”
The organisation has outreach programs where they work hand-in-hand with places like schools, spreading the message of prevention of abuse. Being donor driven means they have limited resources to go door-to-door. Despite the limitations Natasha reminds anyone affected to, “Speak out because you will be amazed at how many people are listening to you and how many can actually help you.” She has noticed that when someone reports abuse to friends or family the advice given is not always proactive. “If you report abuse to your mother and she didn’t listen, you report to your dad and he didn’t listen, you told your aunt she also didn’t listen. This can make the abuser think they have to live with it, there is no way out.” Kgomotso adds on how vital it is for people to listen. “Stop being biased. Don’t take sides. Don’t tell them what to do, hear it from them. Otherwise refer the affected person to the professionals.” The good news is that starting as of the last quarter of 2012 more men started being proactive in their approach to violence. “We have received men here at the shelter seeking counselling because they feel they may end up doing something wrong or bad; it’s great to see them being pro-active.” If you happen across someone being abused you are advised to report the matter either to the police, whom you can inform in secrecy or call the shelter on 3900516 or 3907658.