The Cycle of Abuse
Yesterday was an interesting day. I thought I would spend a quiet morning getting a pile of work done. But let’s be realistic, that just doesn’t happen!
At about 11 o’clock am the lady who works at Shane’s house arrived in tears. She was absolutely distraught because on the weekend she went away with her church, leaving her two children, and her sisters two children (whom she has custody of), in the care of her daughter in-law. When she arrived home, she found her shack in chaos. Her sister (who we will just call sissie*) was beating her 5 month old baby, and had attacked our workers daughter by trying to throttle her. Sissie was arrested and taken to a hospital because the police believe she may be mentally ill from using Tik.
I took our domestic worker (who we will just call Tannie*), to the police station to lay a charge against her sister, and discovered something pretty frustrating. Because the police took the sister to the hospital instead of the police station, the assumption is that she is mentally ill, and in South Africa, you can’t lay a charge against someone who is mentally ill.
Except at the time, this officer currently had no proof that the sister is mentally ill. I asked him to please lay a charge against Sissie until the hospital decides what to do, because if they release her, she will be free to walk back into the house and start beating the children again…
This is not the first time that the Tannie has told us that the children were being abused by her sister so I decided to dig further into the situation. I called on Baby Safe, a non-profit organisation who deals with the placement of babies into foster care. They contacted the social worker. Baby Safe found out that Tannie has technically been enabling this sister to continue to beat the children. According to the S.Worker they have told her multiple times to get a protection order against the sister, and to do other things that will protect the children and mean that they will be out of the care of Sissie. YET she always decides to forgive her, and refuses to take out the order, because each time the sister comes back, she believes that this could be the day that things will change.
The problem is, as we have seen with abuse, it often never changes. As long as Tannie lets her sister back into the childrens lives, they will be at risk. She has beaten, and screamed, and physically deserted her children in the past, and yet Tannie will forgive her over and over again. She loves her sister to much to let her go, and despite not even having enough money to feed her own children, she loves her niece and nephew to much to let them go either… and so they are caught in a vicious cycle.
I tried to reason with the officer yesterday for a good half and hour, but he simply informed me that I must not understand how the police work here. He says, “I am here to stop people like you from laying charges with ulterior motives.”
Ulterior Motives? Like the protection of an innocent five month old? I normally have a fantastic time dealing with the police in SA, and rarely complain about their conduct. But yesterday, I was at the end of my rope. Another fantastic line he gave was that, “Child Abuse is a social issue, not a police issue.” Eventually he just started ignoring me.
If it is that hard for me, as an educated, white person to lay a charge against a dangerous and abusive woman, how much more difficult is it for someone from the community, to have their needs understood and receive the protection that they need. In this case, I am sure it would be much easier to forgive and pretend like it won’t happen again… Even though it does.