“One of the hardest things you will ever have to do is grieve the loss of a person who is still alive.”
This quote popped in my head a few times as I watched the helpless state Thuli was caught in. A clueless teenage girl, constantly listening to her mother’s muffled cries as she was battered and bruised by her husband. Many of us have been Thuli in someone’s story. I once had a friend whose relationship spun in circles. Whenever it got out of control, she would run to me and for a hot minute, I would hug her tightly, inhaling the smell of blood and sweat on her skin as she swore never to go back to him. In those moments, I would say to myself, “Thank goodness, she has finally seen the light.”
What I didn’t understand, however, was how easy it was to run back into the arms of a person who is excited to see you in pain. It was so painful watching her suffer like that. I was Thuli in that story and l failed terribly at it. I hated how I was only useful for occasional chit-chats and hugs. I hated how trivial she made our conversations about leaving seem when they got back together.
Identifying the problem
How did I completely ignore the elephant in the room? We often forget that situations such as this need to be pruned at the root if we truly desire a permanent fix. How long before we realize that for some women, it's not that easy? My tolerance level is very low and I move on from situations quickly. But every woman has different reasons for deciding not to leave. Maybe the fear of the unknown or the thought of being harmed or even killed is what makes women stay in abusive relationships. You will find that these are legitimate reasons if you take a critical look. These things happen. Oh, if only you would think deeply enough to see that sometimes, there’s really no safe space for these victims. They have nowhere to go because their lives have been built around their partners because they have been conditioned to believe that society will not accept them if they step out of the marriage zone. And maybe they are right. How many African parents welcome their formerly married children home with open arms? This situation is way bigger than we assume it is.
While leaving seems like the easiest route out of an abusive relationship, it is commonplace to police the actions and inactions of the victim instead of solving the real issue. Placing the onus of safety solely on the victim does nothing to solve the fundamental problem. In fact, it only further reiterates the fact that we are lazy and insensitive to the dynamics of abusive relationships.
The way forward
We all need to be deliberate about placing equal emphasis on addressing the abuser and protecting the victim. It is unwise to ignore that huge part of the conversation. Simply removing a victim from the situation only creates room for another victim to suffer. Look beyond creating an escape and you will find that we can break this cycle if we deal with the problem as we should. Have you considered handing over the abuser to the appropriate authorities? Remove the problem first, every other thing is secondary. Thuli’s father murdered his wife and disappeared without a trace. Leaving that marriage would not have stopped him from finding her and terrorising her eventually. We see how Andile physically abused Zamo even after she made it clear that she was done with the relationship. Learn to deal with the problem from the root.
My friend left that relationship, by the way, but we do not have the slightest idea of what her abuser has done to the next woman.
It is critical that we enforce certain boundaries, starting from how we teach little kids the consequences of physical and emotional abuse. Abusers should be adequately punished for their actions, it is ridiculous to leave these people roaming freely while channelling our energy towards the victim. Policies should be created to put the perpetrators in check.
For starters, do we have an effective restraining order policy in Africa? Do people know about it? Talk is cheap. I am tired of listening to people whine about how women remain in abusive relationships. We need to see actions, please!
I am in no way thrashing the fact that leaving is essential, but I believe this is a safer way to do so.