by Lesego Tlhwale
Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is to login to my Facebook, check my inbox, read through my feeds then stalk people’s timelines (LOL). While I was doing my daily Facebook routine, I came across Zanele Muholi’s status update. I could tell that the status had already been viewed by a lot of people because it had 80+ likes and 25 comments.
I must say, I was puzzled by so many likes. I didn’t understand if they like the status for the fact that she spoke about her ordeal in public or because she’s a victim of abuse?
I guess I will never know.
Zanele’s update read as follow:
“I’m a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of a woman I loved.
I’ve learnt that before I say sorry to any abused person I should face my own situation. My abuser told me that she loved me dearly but yet continued to abuse me: physically-emotionally-verbally.
I stayed in that relationship because I loved her. It continued for a year, even neighbours were aware of the situation but could not help that much…
I know that there are some lesbians who are suffering in silence because there is no much service provision for many of us.
It is important that we speak out now not only during 16 Days of Activism…”
I must say, I was shocked by the status… I have read a lot of things written about and by Zanele, but I never even in my wildest dreams think that I would ever read about her being a victim of abuse.
Some of you might ask why was I shocked? People, this is “Zanele Muholi” I’m talking about here, an Icon to many in the LGBTI community; an achiever and someone I look up. I have worked with this woman, I have had heart to heart conversations with her, and not even once have I thought or even suspected that she might have been abused before, especially by someone she loved.
I guess domestic violence doesn’t choose who you are or what you’ve achieved, it can happen to the best of us.
However, I applaud Muholi for speaking out about domestic violence amongst lesbians. This is a subject we hardly talk about especially in the gay community, and it is something that happens in most relationships. I know people who have been in abusive relationships, some have since ended those relationships, but some are still in those dangerous relationship merely because they think they are loved.
Reading through the comments on Muholi’s status made me realise that all sort of abuse
(Emotional, Verbal, and Physical) are rife amongst lesbian couples. A lot of women suffer these abuses in silence. I have a friend who was physically abused, but she never told me about the abuse in person. I heard about it from a mutual friend telling me in passing, and even after hearing the appalling news. I’ve never asked the friend about the abuse, and the reason I didn’t ask was because I always viewed abuse as a private matter.
There are walls of silence within the lesbian community when it comes to domestic violence, and to some extent, the lesbian community seems somewhat reluctant to address the fact that this does occur to many of us.
One of the first comments I read on the status read as follow: “I was also in an abusive relationship with a woman… She had been sexually/physically/emotionally abused as a child-and she carried on the family tradition”.
I have mixed feelings about such statements/views, I feel it is a statement used to excuse the perpetrators behaviour, I mean coming from an abusive family doesn’t compel one to be abusive, unless maybe I got the wrong memo of life… I think that one chooses to be whom and what they want to be, unless maybe being abused as a child is some kind of university that teaches one to be the ‘master abuser’. Abuse is abuse; we cannot justify it by our past.
Another striking similarity in these stories is that, they all stayed in the abusive relationships because the partner (abuser) told them she loved them. Well I guess them being battered was a sign of how much they were loved… some can’t leave because they’ve got nowhere else to go, the very same abusive partner might be the only thing closer to family, some provide for the victims financially and without them they’re nothing. These are some of the reason people succumb to abuse.
However, It’s important that we as lesbian adopt the nature of speaking out about such issue, let it not just end with us reporting gender based violence perpetrated to us by men only, let’s also report the partners that claim to love us but yet hit on us.
A lot of lesbians I know who have been abused hardly report their cases to the police, and those that do report these cases end up being ridiculed by police officers the minute they mention that their partner is a woman.
I mean, it’s no secret that the South African Police Service lack sensitivity when it comes to LGBTI victims of any sort, and maybe that’s one of the reason our battered lesbians hardly report such cases. I personally feel that specialised services are particularly needed for LGBTI people because reporting rates and prosecution rates are very low at this stage in South Africa.
Another thing that seems to be lacking in our communities is local resources, organisations, conferences and educational materials regarding Gender Based Violence in the LGBTI community. The subject of domestic violence is always swept under the carpet. We know it happens, we have close friends who are victims, and some of us are perpetrators but yet we fail to address the issue.
There are plenty of organisations that are for LGBTI’s by LGBTI’s in South Africa, what are they doing to address the issue of domestic violence between same-sex couple’s?
Is there any organisation that offer support to such victims?
Has there been research done to try and survey the problem?
Can’t we as the lesbian community have campaigns like Brothers For Life that rehabilitated men abusers to do the right thing?
More needs to be done to address domestic violence, like Muholi said in her status update
“It is important that we speak out now not only during 16 Days of Activism”.
Previous articles by Lesego Tlhwale
2013 Feb. 12: A dildo is not a man; it’s a fantastic toy…
2013 Mar.1: Definitely NOT “Gaysbian”