One in every four women is physically abused by her intimate partner. Every six hours, a woman is killed by her current or former intimate partner.
These are some of the shocking statistics that illustrate the extent of violence against women in South Africa. While intimate partner violence is triggered by many factors, alcohol use and abuse had often been found to be a risk factor for a man to abuse his partner and for women to be victims of violence, says Professor Naeemah Abrahams, deputy director at the gender and health unit at the Medical Research Council.
“Women who use alcohol are abused because they use alcohol [women are also particularly vulnerable when inebriated] and women who are abused also use alcohol to cope. This is a bidirectional relationship,” she explained.
“We also often hear from women in qualitative studies that their partners would stop abusing them if alcohol were removed from the relationship. However, there are many men who don’t drink, but also abuse their partners, as well as many women who do not use alcohol who are at risk for violence,” Abrahams explains.
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2012 found that 65% of women in South Africa had experienced spousal abuse a year before the research was conducted. The study also showed that their partners always or sometimes used alcohol before the assault.
Alcohol consumption, especially at harmful and hazardous levels, is not just a major contributor to the occurrence of intimate partner violence, but a key source of conflict, said Abrahams.
“One of the key issues for women are that men use much-needed resources [household money] for alcohol and this causes conflict. A drunk man may have fewer inhibitions and become violent towards the female partner, who is considered to be ‘nagging’,” she says.
Intimate partner violence is a serious matter in South Africa. Local and international research shows that it is the most common form of abuse experienced by women.
This form of abuse – which often accompanied by verbal and emotional abuse – has severe consequences for victims. Apart from an increased risk of injury and death, women who experience intimate partner violence have an increased probability of suffering from mental disorders.
Abrahams explains that victims of intimate partner violence have lower self-esteem due to the emotional abuse often employed by men to “break them down”.
“This leads to depression, poor coping abilities and even suicidal tendencies. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also associated with the violence, especially traumatic experiences,” she says.
Many people always ask why women in abusive relationships stay with their partners, despite the violence and pain that they endure. Abrahams says the answer is not that simple.
“Some women hope that the partner will change. They also do not leave because they often think their own behaviours cause the problem and they will therefore attempt to change their own behaviour to stop the violence.
“Women who are economically dependent on the partner have the most difficulty to leave and therefore, for poor women, it is not even an option. Some women feel shy and embarrassed to tell others that they are experiencing violence and keeping it a secret prevents assistance,” she says.