Domestic violence – are you a victim?

The excuses are old. A woman who “slipped and fell down the stairs – hence the blue eye”; children with cigarette burns on their bodies, “naughty” bruises that are hidden from playmates and neighbours; elderly people who are neglected and even assaulted by their children. Broken people who suffer, mostly in silence, the physical and emotional pain of family violence. And often, this evil is brought into the open by outsiders.

What is family violence?

Family violence against spouses, offspring, parents and grandparents come in different guises:
• To assault someone physically or even just threaten to do it.
• To sexually assault or molest someone or even just threaten to do it.
• To abuse someone emotionally, for example by disparaging someone’s self image.
• To remove someone’s right to take their own decisions, to limit someone or to forbid someone to form friendly relationships.
• Verbal abuse – to offend, humiliate or swear at a person.
• Economic abuse – refusing to provide for someone’s basic needs or forbidding him or her to work.
• To persecute and intimidate a person – any behaviour that fills him or her with fear.
• To damage personal property of the victim.
• Violent or even uninvited entering of the victim’s home.

Who are the victims of family violence?

Statistics have shown that one out of six women are victims of family violence. This usually includes assault such as slapping and punching, beating with a physical object such as a belt, verbal abuse (insults, humiliations and swearing) and even rape. In extreme cases, the man is the victim of family violence – mostly verbal abuse or the destruction of personal effects. Although physical violence against men does not occur often, there are some cases of women who assault and even murder their husbands.

In many cases, children are the victims of family violence and abuse. Although parents have the right to discipline children, punishment should be within boundaries. The law requires parents or guardians to discipline children with great care. Punishment that may lead to serious physical damage is illegal and culpable. Unnatural punitive measures may cause physical and emotional damage. There are even parents who punish their children by locking them in a room for hours on end without any food or water.

Parents and grandparents are also often the victims of family violence. Parents are often assaulted and verbally abused by their children. Older people’s pensions are often used by close family members, leaving the elderly without money and therefore without basic provisions. The abuse or neglect of an elderly person can be physical, emotional, sexual or financial in nature, or involve abuse or plain neglect. Although there is no specific legislation that protect parents and grandparents against family violence, they do have access to the courts, where they can file assault complaints or obtain an interdict.

God’s Word on family violence

• The Bible is against any form of violence. There are clear guidelines on how the mutual relationship between husband and wife and parent and child should be within the context of a family. When you look at Ephesians 5:21 to 6:1-6, Colossians 3:18-21 and 1 Peter 3:1-7, there are clear instructions to women, men and children about what is expected of them. The relationships should be characterised by love, respect and caring.

• Both men and women are firstly called upon by Paul in Ephesians 5 to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Christ’s conduct is held up as model for them. According to Paul, Christ is the head of the church, to whom the church should submit. In the same way, the woman should thus submit to her husband. This mandate can, however, easily create the impression that the woman is under the dominion of the man, who may rule over her like a tyrant. Only when read together with the instructions to the man – to nourish and cherish her as he does his own body – are the instructions to the woman understood. It is thus not a case of the one (the woman) being submissive to the other (the man) who is in charge, but rather a case of man and wife being submissive to one another, out of respect for Christ. The man may not abuse his position to dominate, oppress, humiliate or even physically assault his wife. It is made clear in Genesis that God made man and woman to be companions who support and help one another. Family violence is in direct opposition of this intention of the creation of man and woman.

• The Lord requests that we love another (1 Corinthians 13) and love does not harm our neighbour, but requires mutual respect for one another.

• Strive towards a perfect relationship with God. When there is peace in your heart, you will strive for peace in yourself, too. Remain patient with your family and respect their opinions, even if you don’t always agree with them.

• Romans 12 tells us not to repay anyone evil for evil or to take revenge. We should repay evil with goodness.

• In Matthew 7, Jesus himself gives us the golden rule – to do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

• God has entrusted children to parents and adults so that they may protect, nourish and educate them, not harm them.

• There is a mutual responsibility between parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-4). Children must respect their parents, even when they are demanding and unreasonable. In their turn, parents should raise their children in love, even when they are disobedient. Parents and children who are believers should consider one another and live together in love. This can only happen when they submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. “Obey” and “honour” are two different concepts. To be obedient means to do what your parents require of you, while honouring them means to show them love and respect. Children should obey their parents until they are no longer under their authority. They should, however, honour them for life.

What can be done to combat family violence?

The South African courts have various protection mechanisms for victims.

• According to the Family Violence Act of 1998, any person who is exposed to violence within a family relationship may appeal to the courts for protection. This includes persons of the same sex who live within a family relationship, or persons who do not live together but are in a relationship. Even if a relationship has already ended and the violence continues, the victim may still seek protection from a court.

• The Prevention of Family Violence Act of 1993 makes provision for the procurement of a restraining order, which forbids a person from certain acts/behaviours. Women seeking protection from their husbands may apply for this type of interdict at the courts.

• Women can move out of their homes and look for other accommodation for safety reasons. The fear that they may lose alimony for themselves or their children is ungrounded. They may purchase necessary provisions and the husband is legally bound to pay for it. Even if they no longer share a home, the husband is legally bound to pay alimony – as long as the marriage has not been annulled.

• There are places of safety where women can go if they fear for their safety.

• Women can also enter a civil claim for damages, as well as a criminal claim, against their husbands, if they have been assaulted to a degree that caused them physical pain and suffering.

• A woman is entitled to file a complaint of assault at any police station if she has been raped. She may even file a complaint against her legitimate husband.

• As a last resort, women may file for divorce. As grounds for divorce, the fact may be brought forward that the marriage has been irreparably destroyed and that the personal safety of the applicant can not be guaranteed.

Get help here:

Seek support and advice from family and friends, a marriage councillor, a pastor, a social worker and a lawyer.
HEAL – Halt Elder Abuse Line 0800 003 081
Childline 08000 55555 or 021 461 1114
Contact the Social Synodic Office at 012 342 0092.

Share this post