Rakhi Beekrum.

Opinion - Love hurts. It’s a popular phrase I’ve heard several times. But does love really hurt? If it hurts, is it real love?

What message are we sending to young girls and women, who internalise such a belief? Love does not - and should not - hurt!

We are currently observing 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

The theme for 2017 is “Count Me In: Together Moving a Non-Violent South Africa Forward”.

What’s key in this message is the word ‘together’! Through my work, I have encountered many victims of abuse. 

When we speak of abuse, it isn’t just physical, but also emotional, verbal, financial and sexual. 

One of the common threads I notice is that women are afraid to speak out for the fear of being judged and what others would think.

It’s sad to live in a society where women and children are made to endure further suffering due to the lack of support.

One of the most common forms of violence against women in South Africa is intimate partner violence. 

Many South African women die at the hands of their partners.

There is something very wrong with this picture. How can someone who supposedly loves you treat you this way?

Staying silent about abuse only serves to perpetuate the problem. 

The only way to reduce the stigma is to speak about abuse so victims are assured that it’s safe to speak out about their abuse. 

It’s important to be empathic instead of judging.

Many women remain in abusive relationships despite the pain and heartbreak. 

We need to understand that it’s not always easy to leave a relationship.

There may be financial consequences, for example, a woman who does not work and is solely dependent on her partner may find it much harder to leave. 

Many women believe their partner will change and may even try to justify his behaviour, because it’s too painful for them to accept the reality. 

Others stay “for the sake of the children”, especially when children are younger. 

And there’s the very real fear of the abuser and what he would do if she leaves.

So we need to support women by continuing to empower them and giving them courage. 

All they need to know is that someone cares and will be there for them. 

It may be frustrating to see them stay with an abusive partner, but continue to let them know that you care. 

We can try to be helpful in practical ways such as helping find a safe place for them to stay, identifying organisations that could assist, etc.

One of the key points we need to practically address is how boys are raised. 

Gender stereotypes from a young age teach boys and girls that they are different.

It’s important not to fall prey to gender stereotypes at home. 

Parents need to realise that they are the primary role models that children are exposed to.

Children learn from what they observe, so the more equality and fairness in the parental relationship, the better the children’s ideas are of what’s socially acceptable and what’s not.

For example, if the father is abusive in any way to the wife or children, sons learn that this is acceptable behaviour for men.

Parents also need to play an important role in correcting any gender stereotypes that children have. 

We need to teach our sons how to treat women and that violence or abuse in any form is wrong and there are consequences for them.

We need to educate children from a young age that they have a right to say ‘no’! . 

Children must learn to distinguish between safe and unsafe touch.

They need to know who is allowed to touch them and what to do if someone who isn’t supposed to touches them. 

One of the ways I teach children is to show them pictures of children wearing swimming costumes - nobody (except perhaps mom, dad or grandma) are allowed to touch them in any part that is covered by the swimming costume.

Teach your sons to respect women and to stand up for women who are being victimised by other men. 

Our responsibility is to create a safe environment where victims of abuse feel safe to reach out. 

We just need to be there for them, to listen and assure them that we care.

Acknowledge any reasons they have for not leaving the relationship immediately. 

Help them develop an exit or safety plan for when they do decide to leave. 

Help them identify sources of help in the community. Check that your workplace has policies on gender-based violence.

A few months ago, the world was shocked (and relieved) that so many women spoke out during the #Metoo campaign.

We need this same freedom to speak out in South Africa. 

We need to judge less and empathise more, so women and children are comfortable to speak out. 

Let us remind women that despite what their abusers say, no one deserves abuse! 

True love does not hurt and someone who loves you will never inflict pain on you.

Remember, not all scars are visible! Sometimes it’s the scars we can’t physically see that are the hardest to heal. 

Let us raise our girls with the confidence that they do not need to endure such treatment. 

Let us work together towards a violence-free South Africa.

* Rakhi Beekrum is a counselling psychologist.

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