Physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women. File picture
Cape Town - Physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women and, with rape, is a leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

So said the SA Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop), which has highlighted the long-term effects of the trauma of gender-based and domestic violence.

Sasop member Professor Ugasvaree Subramaney said South African women who suffer PTSD as a result of rape and/or physical assault by their partners often never fully recover.

“Nightmares, flashbacks, sleep difficulties, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating and emotional numbness that characterise PTSD can have a crippling effect on the sufferer’s social functioning, their work and family life, education and physical health, as well as having costs in terms of lost income and medical care, even long after a woman has escaped an abusive situation,” she said.

She said twice as many women as men would experience PTSD during their lifetimes, even though men had greater exposure to traumatic events.

Claudia Lopes, from the Cape Town Heinrich Böll Foundation, said the under-reporting of sexual and domestic violence offences and problematic police recording of domestic violence cases, in particular, were barriers to fully under standing the scale of violence against women.

“Given our excessive rates of intimate partner violence, with concomitant multiple adverse health and developmental consequences for women and their children, medical personnel should take intimate partner violence more seriously. While it occurs in all forms of sexual relationships and involves any gender, statistically, men are the greatest perpetrators of intimate partner violence,” Lopes said.

She said commonly women remained in abusive relationships for years. “These women are often harshly judged for “choosing” to stay in or for not reporting an abusive relationship. This secondary victimisation reveals a lack of insight into intimate partner violence and how it affects the psyche of an abused woman,” she said.

Subramaney said without treatment, the symptoms of PTSD could continue for years. “Almost 75% of South Africans have experienced at least one traumatic event, with violence by an intimate partner one of the most frequent (24.3%), at a similar level to the likelihood of being the victim of any crime in general.”

Lopes said effective health system responses included acknowledging intimate partner violence and that it was unacceptable.

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