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  • Writer's pictureHayley Whitehorn

Silence on GBV Breeds Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is any form of violence perpetrated against someone based specifically on their gender. The majority of GBV cases involve victims who are women, either by biological sex or gender identification. GBV can be financial abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, structural abuse, verbal abuse, or physical abuse.

The purpose of this article is a little different than usual. I wanted to use the space to raise some awareness on different forms of GBV and the effects it can have so that we can all educate ourselves a little bit more. If a GBV crime has been perpetrated against you there will need to be more intervention then just at-home coping tips which is what I usually share (like legal action, medical examination, and/or safety measures). I have been involved in many protests and movements in South Africa over the last couple of years, trying to make a change and advance programs and policies. Also, over my years of seeing clients as a student or intern psychologist, I have unfortunately seen trends of 95% of my female clients have experienced some form of GBV in their lifetime. These ongoing crimes and scary statistics made me think to do this article and I hope it can just better our understanding.

GBV is deeply rooted in gender and power inequalities because of misunderstandings of normative role expectations and entrenched societal discrimination. This is why GBV is disproportionally affecting women because of the patriarchal structures and beliefs. In South Africa, femicide (the murder of women on the basis of their gender) is 5 times higher than the global average. Furthermore, 1 in 3 women in South Africa will experience GBV. Think of these statistics and you can see how frightening these numbers truly are just by looking at those around you – how many of your friends or family have experienced this?

Gender bias and discrimination is rooted in how society functions; there is a lack of respect towards women, a desire for men to control women, a lack of social support for victims, cultural roles, and ineffective laws and law enforcers. But there are also certain situations in which women are deemed quick and easy targets. For example, alcohol or drug abuse, boredom, stress, revenge, coercion for something like financial gain, dependency, and isolation can all increase the likelihood of GBV occurring. This makes it really difficult for women to feel safe anywhere because violence can be enacted at any point.

Some of the different forms of GBV violence include:

  1. Financial abuse – using manipulation with finances (withholding access to joint accounts, coercion for paying for resources, having to hand over all money earned, etc).

  2. Emotional abuse – psychological manipulation (control, blackmail, threats, gaslighting, forced marriages, etc).

  3. Sexual abuse – unwanted sexual advances (groping, harassment, rape, marital/partner rape, trafficking, etc).

  4. Structural abuse – indirect violence through societal opportunities (privileged access and unequal advantages to goods, resources, opportunities, politics, etc).

  5. Verbal abuse – verbal intimidation or harassment (insults, threats, ridicule, degrading actions, etc).

  6. Physical abuse – physical suffering and injury (intimate partner violence, stalking, beating, Female Genital Mutilation (controversial), acid throwing, honour killings, etc).

There are also various different effects that a GBV incident can have on a person, with an understanding of course that each person experiences things differently!

Physiological effects: headaches, lethargy, gastrointestinal distress, dermatological reactions, weight fluctuations, nightmares, insomnia, phobias, panic attacks, sexual problems.

Psychological effects: depression, anxiety, shock, denial, anger, shame, self-blame, guilt, irritation, suicidal thoughts, fear, isolation, confusion, feeling betrayed, powerlessness, self-conscious, low self-esteem, insecurity, embarrassment, and feeling rejected due to social stigma or victim-blaming.

These effects can result in you withdrawing from friends and family, not performing at work, and just being unable to complete daily tasks and functions appropriately. This can have widespread severe impacts on many areas of someone’s life so it is so important that we continue this conversation.

Gender-based violence is a huge human rights issue both globally and in South Africa. We need to continue to speak up, raise awareness, educate ourselves, and push policymakers to change the current laws.

Important Information for Survivors:

  • Go to a safe place.

  • Preserve all physical and other evidence of the incident (NB: remember if it was a rape incident, keep clothes in a paper bag and not plastic, and do not urinate or shower/bath).

  • Seek proper medical care (at places like Rape Crisis Centre or Thuthuzela Care Centre).

  • Write down as much as you can remember about the circumstances of the incident, including a description of the assailant.

  • Talk with a psychologist or counsellor.

  • Consider reporting the incident to the police.

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