President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address earlier this month said it was important for law enforcement agencies to reduce the backlog of gender-based violence (GBV) cases in the country. This comes after he named GBV the second pandemic in our country, with the crime statistics for the last quarter of 2020 showing a massive increase in violence against women and children.
However last month, National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA) project co-ordinator Mariam Mangera said that despite the country finally having a national strategic plan to counter GBV, law enforcement does not seem to be making headway. Volunteer organisations with domestic violence helplines in place have also reported a near 30% rise in calls for help during the hard lockdown.
Despite the loosening of lockdown restrictions, new data from leading fintech company, CompariSure, shows that the shadow pandemic of GBV is not slowing down.
The company, which regularly surveys South Africans from all walks of life on a range of issues, found that the issue may be even more severe than current observations by many organisations.
“CompariSure’s data shows that almost 40% of women aged between 25 and 35 are being isolated from their families by a partner, and 32% have been threatened with harm by their partner,” says Monique Elliott, head of marketing at CompariSure.
In addition, more than half (52%) of respondents said that they currently feel anxious and nervous around their partners. “The psychological knock-on effects of this trauma are far reaching and the issue is exacerbated by the fact that many of us are more confined to our homes than ever before,” adds Elliott.
The level of emotional abuse revealed in the survey is extremely worrying. Elliott says that 35% of respondents said that they are being isolated from family and friends. “Fuelling this feeling of isolation and guilt are threats from abusive partners,” she says. “”25% of our survey respondents have partners who threaten to kill themselves if their partners leave,” says Elliott.
She explains that this is a level of emotional abuse not only does incredible psychological harm to victims, but it has pervasive effects on one’s ability to function in the workplace and be a productive member of society. “Given the above findings, it is no surprise that a quarter of our respondents said that they were afraid of voicing a different opinion to their partner.”
While all incidents of GBV – physical or not – need to be reported to the police, the reality on the ground is that there is little that law enforcement can do about emotional abuse of this kind. “There is, however an opportunity for the private sector to play a key roles here. We believe that continuing to raise awareness around the types of GBV – physical and emotional – in an effort to decrease the fear and stigma cycle,” says Elliott.
In this respect, she says that private companies may in fact be in the best position to make a difference. “It is imperative for brands to step up, spread the message that victims of abuse can in fact reach out for help, and join the cause to end this second pandemic.”
Access to help, she believes, is critical. And technology can play a key role here. “Individuals in poorer areas of South Africa are still in desperate need of easy access to help. While it is heartening that Police Minister Cele has reiterated law enforcement’s motivation to pursue much harsher punishment for crimes committed against women and children, more still needs to be done – and tech can fast-track this,” says Elliott.
“Greater connectivity and the market penetration of cell phones is indeed connecting more people to the help that they need. At the same time, conversational chatbot technology is helping this cause a great deal. It has become evident that individuals feel safer when talking to chatbots when initiating a call for help and view them as non-threatening. The fact that chatbots are available at all times and can engage with people in real time, is also proving an invaluable tool to help end this problem.”
Elliott concludes that it is now up to the private sector to help drive the right solutions. “Brands need to get involved with initiatives and organisations who can bring these solutions to the table. If done right, we may indeed see an end to this scourge.”