Currently in South Africa there has been a proposal that victims of domestic abuse not be able to withdraw charges. There is considerable debate on the subject.
13 Years ago I left an abusive relationship, my journal entries of that time were published in the anthology ‘Glass Jars among Trees’ under my maiden name Sula Changuion.
I can only give my point of view on this subject from my personal experience when I lived with then left my then fiance. I did not lay a charge of abuse, I don’t think that was presented to me as an option by the police. I did go to a police station after one incident of physical abuse. The police saw my bruises and I made a statement as I felt that there may be some protection in knowing that the police had a record of what had happened. After the next incident I obtained a court interdict which prohibited him from contacting or harming me. He flouted the interdict on countless occasions telephoning me, stalking me and going to my house while I was at work. He set up a bug on my phone line and came almost every day to change the tape which was hidden in an outside shed.
One night my friend Lesley was visiting. The abuser broke into the house and held us at knife point. Fortunately when he broke in Lesley was on the telephone and she asked the caller to contact the police who arrived soon after.
A case was then opened regarding the breach of interdict. From when the case was opened his phone calls and stalking became more frequent. His primary motive was to get me to drop the case and withdraw the charges. he was extremely manipulative, looking for sympathy and preying on my emotions. Each time I refused his pleas and demands he became more enraged and potentially dangerous. I really struggled to get answers regarding whether the case could be dropped. I made many calls to the police and court trying to get clarity. The case was postponed a number of times and the limbo continued for many months. At that time I was a mental wreck and could not move forward with my life. I did not want the power to be able to change the course of events. It made me vulnerable to pressure from him. Close to the final court date I established that the case could be dropped and I could ask the prosecutor to attach conditions to the withdrawal of the case. I did not want the burden of responsibility to be passed back to me. It would have been so much easier if it were entirely out of my hands. I had more than enough to cope with already.
I stuck with my decision to allow the case to proceed despite enormous pressure. It was the right choice, but it was a choice I would rather not have had to make.
When the case was over I finally began to take small steps toward a new beginning. I moved to a new province and 5 years later met Cliff who I married a year after that. Those dark days are in the past now.
I have met other women who went back to their abusers. At the same time as my case was pending I met a woman in my office block. She had left her abuser and either pressed charges or opened a case, I can’t remember which. From what she told me he sounded like a real monster. She gave into the manipulation which followed. The next time I saw her she announced that she was back with him and pregnant. She said that she was happy but her eyes told a different story. I don’t know what happened to her but I doubt that her outcome was good. Those men do not change.
An abused woman has very low self esteem, she has probably been told that she is unattractive, she is useless and no one else would want her. She is often told that it is her fault that he was driven to ‘teach her a lesson’. She has very little inner strength to draw on. The abused woman needs support and care from the system. Whatever happens with the law I believe that it is most important that when a victim (I don’t like that word) approaches the police they should know what courses of action are open to her and be able to guide her through the steps which she needs to take, explaining the implications and facts of those steps.