It's hard to break the cycle of abuse. A game of psychological warfare, perpetrators break down their victims by isolating them from friends and family, using emotional blackmail and threats of violence which, unfortunately, they act on.
For Vanessa Tedder, it took years to break free. Even pleas from those closest to her, including her late father, fell on deaf ears.
Her moment of clarity came in 2005. She woke up face-down in a car park at the SABC. She didn’t know how long she’d been lying there. Her face was very badly disfigured and she didn’t realise the extent of the damage until she looked in the mirror.
“I could feel my face was burning. I could taste blood. There was gravel in my mouth. When I looked into the mirror of his car, my forehead was massively swollen. The skin of my nose and chin had been ripped off,” says the former radio and television journalist.
She realised then that she was done with the relationship. “I was not in love with this man. I didn’t even like him. I stayed because of this bizarre sense of loyalty.”
It took her 13 years to break her silence with the release of her new memoir, Beaten But Not Broken. Written under her maiden name, Govender, it took her almost four years to complete. In it she documents how she was beaten, humiliated and broken down by a former lover during an abusive relationship that lasted five years. She was 22 at the time. It was her first relationship.
Now she has chosen to share her story with the rest of South Africa, and it is nothing like the children’s books she’s known for. But months before the book was meant to be published, the shock of the experience came rushing back. “I was starting to feel the intensity of the trauma; the reality that there were going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were going to read my most private thoughts, my darkest memories, my trauma and my anguish,” the author says.
The relationship ended a number of years ago, but the pain still feels raw, almost tangible. “It’s brought everything back with an absolute vengeance, things I never dealt with and pushed away to the back of my mind because now I was in a very public job, so I got swept up in the momentum of that,” she says.
For someone who’s been in the public eye for years, her job was to tell the stories of those who did not have a voice. When the book was released, people were in shock. For a woman who championed against issues such as abuse, she had been hiding her own secret.
Although she doesn’t mention her abuser’s name in her memoir, Tedder says he was a popular radio DJ at a prominent radio station while she was a rookie reporter at the SABC in 1999.
According to Stats SA, one in five women experience physical violence at the hands of a partner. But she refuses to be just another statistic.
She hopes the book will break down taboos and barriers and start conversations about domestic abuse. “I am the face of the abused woman. I break every single stereotype that anybody has across the racial and cultural divide,” she adds. She wears her emotional scars like a badge of honour.