Can I lose my children if i report abuse?
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In South Africa, gender-based violence (GBV) has been declared a second pandemic as the scourge takes on many forms and can even happen online.
But for one woman turning her own experiences into a tool to help others has been paving a way forward for life after abuse.
In November last year, Zen Williams founded Rise Against Domestic Violence SA.
Launching an organisation was not her initial plan when she first started a Facebook blog to share her story, but quickly saw the need to use it to help others especially given the rise in cyberstalking and revenge porn.
“I am a survivor of revenge porn, cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, domestic violence, hacking and narcissistic abuse,” Williams said.
“I have not yet reached a point of finding justice, but I do fight for it every day.”
Williams says she has pending cases with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
“Seeking justice is a long, frightening, and tiring process but it is worthwhile. I have made peace with what happened in my life and have found positive and meaningful things to fill my life with. I focus on helping others and in this have discovered so much healing and growth. All our volunteers are the very core of this organisation, without them this would not be successful,” adds Williams.
Revenge porn is the act of releasing intimate images or videos onto an online platform or circulating to others in other forms in a bid to hurt or defame a person.
In most cases it is done by an intimate partner with whom a relationship has been broken.
The dangers of cyberstalking and the gap in the judicial system, which leaves women vulnerable to cyberstalking and revenge porn as well as the threat of being in a relationship with a toxic individual, are some of the topics Williams addresses through her page and now the organisation.
“Once I began sharing what had taken place in my life I had many followers reaching out for help which then led me to opening this organisation,” she said.
“My husband Ryan was also a driving force behind my opening this organisation, and without him I wouldn’t have had the faith in myself to do so.
“My husband has been my rock through the last few years of trying to survive the crimes waged against me. Helping others allowed me a second chance, giving me hope and purpose. It was a new lease on life.
“The motivation that drives me every day is to educate and assist both men and women about the shortfalls, red flags and warning signs of toxic relationships as well as offer hope to the victims who have lost theirs.”
October is also Cyber Awareness Month, dedicated to empowering and educating locals on the importance of safety and crime prevention online.
“Along with the education and awareness programme, I feel there is a lack of education among all adults relating to their rights, how to go about applying for protection orders and how to effectively handle opening police cases when necessary. To assist this process of offering adequate legal advice, I created a WhatsApp Legal Advice group. We have been blessed with very committed and dedicated legal volunteers who assist members of this group. This group currently has 80-100 members at any given time who provide legal advice to victims of domestic violence and abuse as well as guidance pertaining to divorce matters, criminal procedures, and court protocols.
“In addition to this, we also have a WhatsApp support group for women where we offer access to resources, information, guidance and emotional support and another separate group offering the same for men. These support groups currently have 80-100 members at any given time. In addition to the above groups, we also have members who approach me privately on a daily basis, and we average 20-30 interactions per day which includes men and women.”
The legal advice remains their most popular as many need to go through legal procedures without access to legal representation.
Williams says the organisation does not only focus on women as men can be abused too.
“I noticed most organisations concentrate mainly on women who are abused but never speak about or support men who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. I felt it was imperative to welcome both men and women into our organisation because I believe that violence has no gender and that men are victims of abuse too,” she says.
“Even though I was a victim of domestic violence actioned against me by a man, I still feel the need to assist men in this organisation.”
Since their November launch, they have assisted 735 women and 25 men. Around 20 people have also successfully obtained protection orders and assisted in placing seven victims in shelters or arranged accommodation.
“We have arranged free counselling for victims of abuse and rehabilitation for abusers in order for them to have a second chance. We have assisted with countless affidavits in the process of opening protection orders or police cases. Affidavits are very important and need to be written correctly, we have noticed that victims of abuse have their cases thrown out of court due to not having enough evidence or the affidavit is not adequate in describing the events that took place.
“We are driven by a single goal, to do our part in making South Africa a better place for all. This cause welcomes men, women, victim and abuser. We are all in this together.”
Her hope is to grow the organisation to assist as many victims across the country and become a preferred organisation for combating the scourge.
The organisation offers free services to victims of all forms of domestic violence, including counselling.
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Signs of abuse - the hidden and unvarnished truth – as they like to call it.
On the outset the couple looks like a healthy, happy couple. The victim’s images on social media and Facebook appears to be happy and the victim is smiling. What could possibly be wrong when the victim appears to be so happy online?
When trouble hits the waters in this relationship it would appear that both partners may be equally at fault but the victim seems to be acting strange, and appears to be a little “crazy”
At this point the abuser keeps things together until there is a breaking point, to the public eye the abuser is kind, sweet and friendly to their partner as well as to their mutual friends, so how could this person possibly be abusive?
The abuser at this stage begins complaining and sharing intimate information and false narratives about their partner to their family and friends, preparing them just in time for what is inevitably going to happen. The abuser is waiting for the victim to break down and react to the constant blows of abuse whether it was mentally, emotionally, or psychologically - all while portraying themselves as the victim to a situation that they must put up with. They go on to share that this is taking a toll on them, that they are in fact being abused and the victim is out of hand and delusional.
They may even record the victim reacting to their abuse and use this as evidence against the victim to paint the victim as “crazy” and themselves as the “victim”
At home, behind closed doors the abuser has a completely different agenda. The abuser is yelling, undermining, controlling, abusive, emotionally vacant, constantly taunting and attacking the victim. The abuser is loving the outbursts from the victim, the more the victim reacts to their abuse the more the abuser has against the victim. This cycle continues for weeks, months, years…
Breaking the victim has been the abuser’s goal from day one. It is a game; it makes the abuser feel powerful and in control. It also allows the abuser to feed off all the attention they are receiving from being the “victim”.
But what is taking place within the victim? The victim is left confused, vulnerable, alone, the victim will need to face and accept the false narrative actioned against them which most people will believe because the abuser is showing these people just how “crazy” the victim is by taunting and pushing the victim in various methods to entice a reaction. The victim’s nervous system will be unstable, with no where to turn all kinds of things could take place at this point.
When the police are called, the abuser makes sure that they are calm and cooperate when they are in the home investigating what has taken place. You need to understand that when the police arrive the chances are the victim called the police because they have no way out to stop this horrendous assassination against them. When the police arrive, the victim’s nervous system and emotions are not calm and not rational. The victim will be visibly upset and there will be an outburst of information coming from the victim all while the abuser sits back relaxed and calm, explaining to the police that they are crazy as they can visibly see, leaving law enforcement questioning the mental stability of the victim.
The police will leave.
The chances of the victim going to the police station and opening a case against the abuser is slim. Why? Because most of the time the abuser is not actually physically abusing the victim, but rather shouting, denying their reality, cheating, manipulating, constantly actioning micro blows at the victim.
You must remember that abusers don’t abuse 100% of the time, they abuse 80% of the time. Within that 80% they are physically assaulting the victim a small percentage of the time, leaving the victim in a roller coaster ride of confusion and emotion. The other 20%, is just enough “I love you” and “I am sorry” offered to the victim which is why the victim stays in this relationship. This constant tug of war between love and abuse leaves the victim trauma bonded and the 20% of love offered, is just enough to convince them to stay. Another reason is because the victim loves the abuser and does not want them to get into trouble. They will do anything to protect their abusive partner no matter how the victim is treated by them.
The victim may at this stage want to reach out to their friends and family, but what the victim does not yet know, is that the abusive partner has already reached their inner circle. It was strategically plotted and planned this way. Whenever the victim reacted to the abuse in the past the abuser has raised concerns regarding the victim’s behaviour, and this will all be done under the veil of “I love them and I am very concerned” The abuser would have told their family and friends to not mention anything as it would cause even more issues between them so the family doesn’t intervene.
So, when the victim approaches their family for help, the family is confused and is left with the impression that they are unstable and in fact “crazy” or “making things up”
In the end, the victim is dealing with a cluster of enablers, leaving the victim isolated, un-helped, unbelieved, scared and alone.
Are you noticing the pattern? Are you realising the dangers of this situation? What would you do if you were in a situation like this?
We need to start understanding that domestic violence is not just physical abuse. Domestic Violence includes mental, emotional, and psychological abuse which is far more damaging than a healing wound. The after affects last for years.
If you are in need of help, please reach us.
Do you have a safety plan?
What is a safety plan?
A safety plan helps you to identify action steps that you must take in order to increase your safety and that of your family against domestic violence.
Take a look at the safety plan from the Department of Justice.
Everything you need to know about Domestic Violence in South Africa.
All the forms you will need to apply for protection orders, medical examination and more.
What is revenge porn? Why is it so important to us? What you can do if you are a victim of revenge porn.
What is Cybercrime & Cyber Harassment? What you can do if you are a victim.
Everything you need to know about narcissism & narcissistic abuse.
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Silent Rights SA, a partner to RADV-SA who stand against Domestic Violence & GBV.