It is vital that we reflect on our history in order to pursue our future. Violence against women has been sanctioned throughout history. By knowing our history, we honour their spirits, we keep the flame of justice alive and it brings us to the reality that we have much work still to do.
In 753 BC during the reign of Romulus in Rome, wife beating was accepted. In 1800 BC, the Code of Hammurabi declared that a wife was subservient to her husband and that he could inflict punishment on any member of his household for any transgression, with impunity, put her to death without a trial, but if you should commit adultery or indecency, she must not presume to lay a finger on you, nor does the law allow it. Some other offenses, punishable by death, were walking outside with her face uncovered or attending a public event without permission.
The above treatment of our women continued throughout the centuries and even as early as in 1910 the U.S Supreme Court ruled that a wife had no cause for action on an assault and battery charge against her husband because it would open the doors of the courts to accusations of all sorts, of one spouse against the other and bring into public notice complaints for assault, slander and libel.
Domestic violence in South Africa
In South Africa, the situation is not much better. The response to domestic violence is of relatively recent origin, with 1993 marking both the introduction of the first legal intention to address domestic violence and the recognition of marital rape as a crime. This first attempt to deal with domestic violence through legislation, namely the Prevention of the Family Violence Act, was further developed and strengthened through the Domestic Violence Act of 1998 (DVA), which is widely considered one of the more progressive examples of such legislation internationally (Institute for Security Studies: 2014).
Although police statistics on domestic violence in this country are limited, 15 609 murders and 64 500 reported rapes in 2011 to 2012 suggest massive levels of violence in our homes. Household surveys by the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) have found that 40% of men have hit their partners and one in four men has raped a woman. Three-quarters of men who admit to having raped women say they did so first as teenagers. And, while a quarter of the country’s women has been raped, just 2% of those raped by a partner reported the incident to police.
“The problem is a complex one,” admits educational psychologist Tammy Epstein, “It lies in part with the absence of male role models in South African families, with how boys are raised and with what parental, cultural, social and peer influences are exerted on them,” – She says (Institute for Security Studies: 2014).
Does South Africa have a culture of violence?
Many researchers working in this field agree that the core of the problem of violence and crime in South Africa has a lot to do with a culture of violence, which needs to be seen and understood in the context of an extremely violent past.
From this perspective, a culture of violence refers to a greater tendency than average within a specific society to resort to the use of violence in day-to-day life. This does not imply that the cultures in South Africa have a violent character, but that violence is viewed as more acceptable by people generally, possibly because South Africans witness, perpetrate and are the victims of violence more often that people in other countries. A culture of violence means most South Africans grow up and live in an environment in which violence has become somewhat of a norm.
Since there is no single cause of violence and crime, there is no single solution. A multi-faceted, holistic approach needs to be adopted, with a focus on prevention. Against the backdrop of its challenging environment, South Africa is home to a highly qualified community of practitioners in the field of violence and crime prevention.