Abuse takes place in all spaces, at all times, whether or not we are looking or we see it. There is always a predator lurking and a victim nearby.
A black eye, bloody face, torn clothes, bruised genitalia, painful screams and hot tears are not the only signs of violence against survivors or victims of abuse. There are signs that are hidden within plain sight that we are often not comfortable discussing.
I believe that the more we make noise about abuse the less we will see it, feel and hear about it, mainly because perpetrators will be forced to change their ways, knowing we are watching them. One of the obstacles to the successful fight against abuse is the secrecy married to the act.
Perpetrators are often not marked as such, as their victims are too ashamed or traumatised to speak out and fear the stigma and victimisation. Rather than showing the victim compassion, society too often interrogates her.
What was she wearing? What did she do? Why did she come home so late? Why did she talk to him? These are just some of the interrogation tactics that prevent a girl or woman from reporting the abuse or opening a case against her abuser. Further victimisation may occur if her in-laws consider the act of reporting domestic abuse a disrepectful attack on the family name.
Victims of abuse also hesitate to seek help as they know they will not receive much support once they report the perpetrator, and he might even be free to roam the streets before the case comes to trial. It has to be remembered that there is more than just one victim at a time; the primary victim represents at least five more secondary victims comprising parents, siblings, spouse or partner, friends, relatives, and children.
These vulnerable secondary victims have also been traumatised by lenient punishments in the past. Here we think of Thato Kutumela who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping and killing his pregnant girlfriend, Zanele Khumalo, five years ago. South Africa’s justice system is arguably working towards stricter punishments and sentences for crimes of abuse against women and children.
Violence towards the vulnerable does not only take place in the home or on the streets, and the vulnerable are not only women and children. Abuse can happen in our schools, churches and workplaces. To this end, Bontlebame executes the Beaded White Ribbon programme, to ignite dialogue against abuse in all different spaces towards curbing violence and sensitising society and communities to abuse.
As a society, as communities and individuals, we must be aware and protect ourselves and the vulnerable from these danger zones. It all begins by having brave and open conversations in the home, at schools and community gatherings. We must ask the difficult questions: why are strange things suddenly happening, why has the behaviour of our children, sisters, mothers, brothers and policies and leadership changed?
We cannot accept unhealthy situations as the status quo. It is a pity that active awareness and the fight against abuse is mostly visible only during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, when suffering and perpetrators are in action daily.
More About The Beaded White Ribbon Initiative
Bontlebame sees the Beaded White Ribbon as the voice of victims, a tool to increase awareness and pronounce their stance against abuse as individuals, groups and organisations. Through the Beaded White Ribbon the message against abuse will reach the workplace, the boardrooms, churches, buses, trains and, most importantly, our homes and hopefully open dialogue where it is needed the most.
The project is also a platform to create an income for rural unemployed women. Bontlebame approaches groups and organisations to order the beaded ribbons for a small donation. They also attach a card to each ribbon, with a message of encouragement as well as contact details of institutions or places for help and support in specific areas in the surrounds of the company/church/group that has ordered the beaded ribbons.
The Beaded White Ribbon initiative has reached far and near, including Germany in partnership with Women Across Boarders, and has grown to include beaded white ribbons, bracelets, necklaces, key rings custom made for supporters needs and it has been included as a healing process for the Bontlebame Girls of Hope.
By Kea Modise-Moloto, Founder and CEO of Non Profit Org Bontlebame