Domestic Violence in South Africa

We interviewed the CEO of Penny Appeal South Africa, Shahnaaz Paruk, about what domestic violence looks like in South Africa. Paruk is extremely passionate about supporting survivors of domestic violence and ensuring they have the tools to continue on with their lives in a safe, positive, and productive manner.

South Africa is at the southernmost tip of Africa consisting of a population of 58 million people, with a roughly equal number of males and females, which has been steadily growing over the years.

We explored the state of South Africa today with Paruk regarding domestic violence with respect to the effects that it has on women and children.

1. How prevalent is domestic violence in South Africa?

South Africa is known to have one of the highest records of violence and sexual assault against women and children. Domestic violence is very prevalent in most communities, with the latest statistics revealing that an estimated 1 in 3 women have faced physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner or known family member.

With South Africa just coming out of a strict lockdown to combat the COVID-19 surge, the instance of domestic violence, specifically against women and children, has drastically increased. Femicide is a growing concern in South Africa, with our President now referring to incidents of violence against women and children as a “silent pandemic.”

2. Homicides against women in South Africa have increased in recent years, what do you believe is the contributing factor?

South Africa is still very much a patriarchal society, and with this comes the notion of male partners displaying a need to assert masculinity amongst their female partners. Additionally, the lack of dire consequences, adequate legal responses, and state-provided intervention and support in relation to these crimes provides a breeding ground for the cycle of femicide and violence against women and children to continue.

Substance abuse and alcoholism are noted to be constant factors in the majority of femicide cases. In cases of crimes against intimate partners, there has been a definite correlation of an over-stressed home environment pertaining to financial strain, relationship challenges, and frustrating socio-economic or psychological challenges faced by one or both partners.

Lastly, I do feel that the society we live in has allowed the patterns of abuse we see to become ingrained in the DNA of our country – largely due to this norm not being challenged, and insufficient resources spent on changing the behavior cycle we have come to accept as normal. A lot more work is needed around advocating for the safety of women and children, and rehabilitation of perpetrators who perpetuate the cycle of abuse and femicide.

3. Are men experiencing domestic violence at the same rate as women?

Statistics have revealed that men experience a much lower rate of domestic violence compared to women and children. These incidents are isolated, and most often are not fatal.

4. How can survivors of domestic violence go about seeking help?

The first step is to speak up/out about it. By doing so, there is a conscious decision to break the cycle of abuse and the perception of being a victim in an on-going cycle of abuse. Assistance can be sought in the form of counseling, places of safety and shelter, and inclusion of family or support structures to enable and foster a positive environment, which will encourage victims to break the cycle.

An area which has not been explored is the option to work with the perpetrator of domestic violence and work toward promoting a change in approach and mindset, so that the interventions taken are not one-sided and reactive to address the victim/survivor’s stance, but that of the perpetrator too.

Law enforcement, civil society, and social welfare groups all have a vital role to play in offering holistic intervention to promote the option of ease in access to assistance, as well as ensuring that policy and action taken against acts of domestic violence are relevant and have serious consequences.

5. How is Penny Appeal South Africa helping in the fight against domestic violence?

Penny Appeal South Africa currently supports a women's shelter in Cape Town, as well as hosting a domestic abuse hotline. The hotline provides advice and basic counsel as well as referral services for individuals, male and female, who experience any form of domestic abuse: emotional, physical, and/or sexual.

The shelter serves as a place of refuge and healing for those affected by domestic abuse, and works in collaboration with local authorities for placement and referrals. Our support makes it possible for victims of gender-based violence to be able to seek assistance and counsel. They can also complete a 90 day program where they are counseled and provided with a safe living space in order for them to plan the next steps of their life.

This is a crucial time for any survivor, and in order to transform from a victim driven mindset to one of survival and wellness, there has to be the promotion of unlearning past behaviors and patterns, and welcoming new lifestyle changes and thought patterns.

Resources on Domestic Violence Internationally:

Violence Against Women – World Health Organization

Facts and Figures: Ending Violence Against Women

International Laws and Policies to Prevent and Intervene in Violence Against Women

Violence Against Women – International

Domestic Violence Against Women – An International Concern

Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women