Gender-Based Violence: The unseen victims

WITH gender-based violence on the increase in Namibia and worldwide it is certainly a topic on everyone’s mind. Namibia reports about 200 gender-based cases per day however, during the lockdown fewer cases where reported. Factors of this violence include verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and other forms of material abuse. Nevertheless, one might only be thinking of the two adults involved in domestic violence episode. It’s true, violence against one gender is a serious concern but, what one may not realise is that there are unseen victims involved -the children. The unseen victim also experiences the emotional and physical abuse as the parent who is the victim. Therefore, domestic violence negatively impacts the wellbeing of children that has a lasting effect. Witnessing domestic violence can cause various problems in children and young adults.

Meet Shipo, Martha and Justine

Shipo is a 10-year-old boy and has been living with his co-habitant parents. Shipo knows that during the day when his father is at work hismother’smale friend visits her at home.He is afraid to tell his father because of what his father might do. Shipo also knows that when his father comes home, he expects his food to be ready, so he cooks mahangu to avoid his father getting angry at his mother. Shipo’s father physically assaults his mother.

Martha is 13 years old and lives with her parents in Windhoek, she still remembers when her parents had a good relationship, but that is a distant memory now. Since Martha’s father lost his job due to his alcohol problem the house feels cold. Martha hides under the bed with her other two siblings when her parents fight about their financial problems. Her parents sleepin different bedrooms, he forces Martha to steal money from her mother. Martha is very unhappy as her mother beats her for stealing the money.

Justine is 17 years old and afraid of leaving her boyfriend, he is always in a bad mood and very aggressive. He beats her at night in the room and sometimes forces her to have sex with him. Justine’s little girl sleeps on the floor next to their bed, she closes her ears and eyes so as to not hear how her father beats her mother.

These are stories of many young children in Namibia.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is an ongoing experience of physical, psychological or sexual abuse at home where one partner controls the other. Violence that happens in settings such as in marriage or cohabitation is also known as intimate partner violence, this also includes violence against children or the effect that it has on the children. Men are also subjected to violence. This often happens in much subtler ways that include verbal abuse such as name calling, financial abuse to more physical abuse such as being thrown with boiling hot water or physically attacked. Abuse against males is not commonly spoken about in our society, even though they are the minority group that is subjected to intimate partner violence. Admittedly men are more reluctant to report such abuse and often complain they areoverlooked and thought of as cowardly. Men also feel much more ashamed of the abuse and suffer in silence. Some men reported that they are frustrated of not being helped and are afraid they might become angry towards the women.

Moreover, violence against women is still prevailing in Namibia. Women that are subjected to domestic violence might not recognize it as abuse at first, the abuse starts off subtly and gets worse overtime. A woman might be susceptible to domestic violence if her partner insults her, or makes her feel crazy,acts jealous or constantly accuses her of being unfaithful as a result isolating the victim from outside communication. The spouse intimidates her by destroying her property and threatens her with violent weapons. Additionally, there are more severe signs that include kicking, choking, slaps you or your children or your pets. Forced sex is a common abuse by the spouse. According to a summary, domestic violence is oftenperpetrated by boyfriends against their girlfriends, either during the relationships or after the relationship has ended. Violence committed by husbands against their wives is a smaller percentage. Most of these women were living in the same households at the time of the violence occurred.

The victims tend to endure the abuse for a longer periodbefore reporting the abuse. Statistics show that they endure the abuse for more than 4years on average before reporting it to anyone, victims of domestic violence are reluctant to seek help due to shame, fear of the abusers, or hoping that relationship will last longer and that the abuser might change.

The Effect of Domestic violence on children and young adults

A child witnessing intimate violence can experience arange of difficulties throughout their lives. The impact of the violence can become so severe that it affects the child’s cognitive, behavioural and emotional wellbeing. They are at a greater risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression. The child might become more aggressive such as fighting at school, bullying, lying or cheating. Other aspects of a child’s life can also be disturbed such as low school performance and difficulty connecting in other relationships. Children exposed to domestic violence grow up and display inappropriate attitudes about violence as a means of resolving conflict and indicate a greater willingness to use violence themselves.

During the violent episode between the partners the children are most likely to get hurt, either accidentally or deliberately. The children are also used to gain power of control over the victim for example the abuser might use visitations to harass the victim, send threatening messages with the children. This causes more noticeable effects on the children which involve low-self-esteem, self-hurt, feeling guilty and blaming themselves for the violence. Younger adults might engage in substance or drug abuse.

Non-the-less, not all abused adults become abusers themselves. One adult stated “I started thinking about taking my own life at young age. I felt like there was something wrong with me. Like I was a damaged soul that could never be fixed and could never stop feeling pain.” Adults that were exposed to domestic violence in their childhood carry symptoms such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder that contribute to suicide risks among these adults. Young people transitioning to adulthood may experience mood disorders and emotional dysregulation that are the leading cause for suicidality. In such a case it is helpful to promote resilience to overcome exposure to trauma with the help of a psychologist or social worker.

Break the cycle

Community psychology can make a major contribution to addressing issues of violence and abuse. Elias and Wandersman (2007) identify seven major intervention strategies within community psychology that can be used to collect, mobilise and use different forms of power to bring about social change. They are as follows: 1. Consciousness raising, 2. Call for action to be taken regarding the violence, whether it is policy changing, protesting, etc. 3. Community development, 4. Community coalition, 5. Organisational consultation, 6. Alternative settings, 7. Policy research. These techniques are typically more effective if they are used as a bunch rather than just one by one.

Namibia has many prevention strategies in place. Firstly, the victim should recognise the pattern of an abusive situation, for instance, the abuser threatens with violence or strikes physically at the victim. The abuser has the habit to apologise, promises to change or offer gifts after an episode. Most importantly, as the abuse repeats itself it also becomes more severe overtime.

A victim of Domestic violence feels helpless and hopeless, but one should remember there is hope. Violence and abuse are very common features of every society in Namibia and it harms a lot of people and groups, and especially children every year. It is imperative therefore that something be done about it. Several years have seen Namibia making an effort towards protecting children and women against violence through incorporating stiffer sentences for perpetrators and raising awareness about violence.

LifeLine/ChildLine’s Psychosocial Services

Providing psychosocial services to children, victims and perpetrators are essential to the healing and growth of our nation.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is a registered Welfare Organisation and NGO whose vision is ‘safer, healthier, more resilient children, families and communities in Namibia’. The organisation operates a National Counselling Centre in Windhoek, which handles different telephone, sms, face-to-face and online counselling services for the whole of Namibia. All services are free of charge.  Operating within their scope of practice and adhering to all national laws, our counsellors are ready to listen and assist.  The call centre is open from 08:00 – 20:00 daily.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is here for you.

Please do not play on the lines, you block the lines for those who may be in immediate need of help!