“Believe women when they ask for help and believe men when they threaten women,” said Dr Nechama Brodie.
Incidents of domestic violence are not isolated – they show patterns of systemic violence in South Africa. This is the chilling reality explored in Dr. Nechama Brodie’s new book Domestic Terror: Intimate partner violence in South Africa.
The book tracks South African women’s experiences with domestic violence over a 100 year period, many of them living in fear and terror in their own homes, some murdered by the intimate partners they shared those spaces with.
Brodie, a veteran journalist, writer and lecturer at the Wits Centre for Journalism was in discussion with broadcaster and journalist Azania Mosaka at the book’s launch at Exclusive Books, Rosebank on September 6.
“By definition, terror is the deliberate instillment of fear…when controlling partners feel as if they are losing control, they up the levels of violence to instil more fear and for them, control,” said Brodie. There are many instances of instilling fear, from smashing a phone to stalking – anything that may cause emotional, physical or any other form of distress.
“Women are often killed with protection orders in their handbags. Police should intervene ‘on the small stuff’ (warning signs) before the ‘big stuff’ happens.”Dr Nechama Brodie
There is a huge failure of the police and justice system when women seek protection from their domestic partners but are not taken seriously. A more intersectional approach which includes healthcare services and the judiciary is needed she emphasised.
A big takeaway from this book is that the warning signs are usually there. Friends and family see abusive relationships and may know about the abusive nature of partners (mainly men) but ignore it until it is too late. Some families and friends paint violent partners as “devoted” and ignore calls for help from women by sending them back to the abuser for “the sake of the family” explained Brodie.
“Bodies show a life of terror,” said Mosaka, referring to a 2019 case of a 54-year-old woman who was murdered by her partner and had her body dumped in a veld, left to decompose. Pathologists had to examine her bones, with her cause of death (ultimately finding that she was beaten with a brick) indistinguishable from previous injuries – some healed, some had not. Almost every bone imaginable was broken at some point.
For those who survive and report their abuse, the risk of being retraumatized is high during the trial process. Character assassinations, slut shaming and sanitizing the abuser’s image are some of the things victims face in court. “The fact that she was drunk or spoke back does not excuse her for being murdered…this links to the historical nature of the societal entitlement of men over women’s bodies,” explained Brodie.
This is Brodie’s third book on true crime in South Africa. She admitted that she thought she could not finish the book halfway through because of the subject matter, but it was more important to finish writing it. “The terror was far too real. It is a heavy book to read because some of the stories become relatable,” she shared.
Having read the book, member of parliament Glynnis Breytenbach said it is “hugely important, impeccably researched . . . It must be said, and it must be read”.
Attendee, Tannur Anders says she wants to read the book because “Dr. Brodie is an incredible researcher and journalist. [Her] extensive data-driven work provides valuable insights to better understand South Africa.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Dr. Nechama Brodie poses proudly with her third crime book at its launch on September 6. Photo: Seth Thorne.
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