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Abuse victims need help to heal

Written by More Matshediso
Physical scars left by violence and abuse may heal over time, but the emotional scars may never heal if not treated.

The Department of Social Development says victims of violence and abuse who seek professional help benefit greatly from these supportive external interventions, which help them heal and become empowered.

According to the department’s spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, there has been an increase in the number of gender-based violence (GBV) cases during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown. Now, more than ever, the services of the department’s Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) are crucial to helping abuse victims emerge stronger and more resilient.

In response to the increased levels of GBV, government has developed an emergency pathway for survivors to get the help they need. One of the interventions is to ensure lockdown regulations are structured in such a manner that a woman can leave her home to report abuse without the fear of a fine, intimidation or further violence.

Oliphant stresses that in order stop their abuse and begin healing, victims must speak out and seek help.

Violence and abuse can be described as sources of trauma on an individual adult or child; whereas a victim is a person who has suffered harm – including physical, emotional or mental injury – economic loss or substantial impairment of their rights.

“If violence and abuse, especially against children, are not addressed, they have the potential to turn a child into an abuser or a victim for life. The emotional effects, which are invisible, will be felt on the structure and functioning of the brain, which will change for the worst and impact the behaviour of the person,” says Oliphant.

“Counselling, psychotherapy and psycho-social support will be the most effective interventions to transform a victim into a survivor,” she adds. 

Psycho-social support is an ongoing process of meeting the physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual needs of individuals.

Oliphant says the support of the person’s family and significant others are also important because they will reassure the individual that there is nothing wrong with them and that their rights were violated.

This support is also important to strengthen the intervention of professionals and alleviate the anxiety, stress and other negative behavioural effects, such as low self-esteem. 

“Untreated violence contributes to post traumatic stress disorder, which changes one’s functioning completely. Victims can also live in fear and that has the potential to drive them into depression and isolation,” she says. 

“The empowerment of victims in a holistic manner reduces secondary victimisation, encourages their co-operation with the criminal justice process, reinforces socially desired behaviour and acts as a deterrent to offenders or potential offenders,” Oliphant says.

Oliphant adds that some of the support systems that the Department of Social Development has in place include;

  • Crisis intervention and overnight accommodation for victims
  • Referral to VEP shelters within 24 hours
  • Linkage with local police stations and health services. 

For more information on how abused victims can get help contact the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre on 0800 428 428. Send an SMS with the words ‘Help’ to 31531 or a Call Me Back with the USSD code: *120*7867#. 

The centre caters for people with speech and hearing impairments through Skype. To use this function, one must add ‘HelpMe GBV’ on their Skype account. The GBVCC website address is: www.gbv.org.za