High levels of violence could lead to emotional desensitisation which is a form of habituation, where individuals start to have a decreased emotional response to violence occurring in the country in general, the writer says. File picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)
High levels of violence could lead to emotional desensitisation which is a form of habituation, where individuals start to have a decreased emotional response to violence occurring in the country in general, the writer says. File picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

South Africans are traumatised by violence daily

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 29, 2020

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By Mariette Joubert

Daily, South Africans read of murders that happened in their communities.

The Global Peace Index of 2020 ranks South Africa as the 24th most unsafe country in the world, with the cost of violence being 13% of the GDP.

There was an increase of 86% in civil unrest from 2011 to 2018 (Institute for Economics & Peace, 2020). During 2018, it had been estimated that 110 children are raped and 49 children are killed daily in South Africa (Shozi, 2018). During 2019/2020, 21325 murders were reported. This is an increase of 1.4%, which amounts to 58 people being murdered daily (Writer, 2020).

Violence has become a socially acceptable way of dealing with conflict. It has been argued that the omission of the death penalty and early release of prisoners on parole are factors that cause potential criminals to lose their fear of prosecution. Other factors that may contribute to violent attacks and murder are the high levels of unemployment and poverty; inequality; revenge and hatred; xenophobia; racism; intimidation and frustration (Schutte, 2004).

High levels of violence could lead to emotional desensitisation which is a form of habituation, where individuals start to have a decreased emotional response to violence.

The role of digital media cannot be ignored. Access to inappropriate material such as violence and pornography is available at the click of a button. Children and adults are playing electronic games where they are the criminals stealing cars, murdering people and abusing sex workers.

Television series and other social media content flood us with violence, hatred and injustice. Playing violent games or watching violent and brutal images may teach us that violence is normal and an acceptable way of solving problems.

We are not learning to be sensitive towards others. Another aspect of digital media is that community members take part in discussions on virtual platforms without knowing the facts - sometimes blaming the victims and making comments that fuel hatred and division.

The sad reality is that families may learn about the murder of a loved one on social media, before the police have informed the family. Sharing images of violence has become “normal”.

As a society, we may not even be aware that we are being traumatised by all the violence, brutality, hate and inappropriate content.

The long- and short-term effects of violence on all communities are devastating. People live in fear and never know when they might be the next victim. Community members have lost their trust and hope in the government and police service, and this has resulted in incidents where community members take justice into their own hands.

The psychological harm of victims could be the most damaging and long-lasting. Victims tend to experience a lack of security and the psychological harm they experience may also influence their family and community members (Visser & Moleko, 2016, * . 308). Some of the effects on communities might be that they stay home. People are less active as they cannot go to parks or exercise. Children can no longer play alone with their friends in the street or go to a shop.

Some community members will move to another area, emigrate or spend increased amounts on safety precautions. However, for most members of our society, increased personal security is unaffordable, and constantly living in fear causes trauma and impacts community members’ mental health and well-being.

The systems are not victim-friendly and victims are discouraged from reporting crimes. The criminal justice system needs to become more victim-friendly and incorporate more views of the community when determining sentencing.

Offenders need to realise the impact their offences had on the victims and the community. They need to be allowed to give back through restorative practices. South Africans need to take collaborative action in preventing murders by not becoming lawless, and standing up for their constitutional rights to be safe. Contributing factors to people committing murders such as poverty, unemployment, lack of values and ethics, substance abuse and lawlessness need to be addressed.

Other interventions:

* Raising awareness.

* Victim empowerment by using a human rights approach for the reporting of crimes and assisting the victim through the legal process.

* Economic upliftment.

* The media should present crime in all parts of South Africa and not just focus on specific areas and events.

* Communities can be educated about conflict resolution.

In a lot of criminal cases, victims will be treated and interrogated as if they are the perpetrators. This has a big influence on victims of intimate crimes like gender-based violence and sexual offences. Training needs to be provided to police officials and court personnel on how to be emotionally supportive to victims.

South Africa is a beautiful country full of resources and potential. Communities need to be instilled with hope for the future and start working together as a nation to build resilience and justice for all.

* Joubert is an advisory board member of the Department of Sociology and an ad hoc lecturer at DiMTEC, University of the Free State.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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