We explore the dynamics of high-profile celebrities allegedly embroiled in physical abuse.
They were a match made in entertainment heaven, he a successful DJ for a well-known radio station and she a presenter, style icon and designer. Their international counterparts shared similar profiles, she a hit-making R&B star and he a chart-topping hip-hop and R&B star.
In the first instance, Bonang Matheba and Euphonik (real name Themba Nkosi) were the topic on everyone’s lips when Matheba officially announced their union via Drum magazine. They dated for two years and often referenced each other in interviews on their love life. However, their relationship came to an unfortunate end when allegations arose that Euphonik had physically abused Matheba. She reportedly opened a case of assault against him and the case is set to be heard in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court on 2 July.
Euphonik has denied the allegations that he physically abused Matheba. He handed himself over to police on 6 June in the presence of his lawyer and was due to appear in court today.
In Rihanna and Chris Brown’s case, they both revelled in the media attention their relationship garnered. The two could be regularly seen holidaying together, attending award shows while Brown featured on Rihanna’s song Umbrella. Yet sadly, their two-year union ended in a physical fight, with Brown assaulting Rihanna, leading to her admission to hospital in 2009.
These two tales are just two examples of love gone wrong. Many women have experienced domestic violence first hand.
We chat to three professionals on physical abuse within a romantic relationship. Psychologist Anelle Naude-Lester, Powa (People Opposing Women Abuse) representative Nonkululeko Khumalo, and relationship expert Savannah Steinberg share their expertise with us.
What factors prevent a woman from speaking out about being abused?
Steinberg: As a woman, we know it is not okay to allow ourselves to be continually beaten up. No one has to tell us this is abusive, we know this, and this in itself with no other judgement from anyone else corrodes our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
When you find yourself in this situation there are a myriad of factors that prevent us from speaking up:
1. Even though you know it is bad and wrong on so many levels, you do not want to leave – speaking up could mean your friends / family / colleagues would force you to leave, and this is not what you want, so you rather keep quiet. With abusive men, you become trapped, as they corrode your self-esteem and self-worth, so you end up believing you are worthless and no other man will ever love you, so rather stay where he at least claims to love you.
2. When in an abusive relationship, this speaks volumes about the relationship you have with yourself, no self-loving human would condone this. In this situation your self-worth can be so low you become hostage to the situation, fearing saying anything, as this could get you into further abuse. In addition to this, to admit you are a victim of abuse is shameful, embarrassing, also causing you not to want to speak up.
What can women who are too scared to speak up do to get help?
Naude-Lester: Don’t try to do it alone. Get professional help and other support systems in place to assist you. Abusers’ most powerful weapon is silence and isolation. The more voices you have standing with you against the abuse, the more power you will have.
Steinberg: My advice is to start learning about yourself. Read up on abusive relationships, find out what is causing this... the more you understand about it, the more chances you have to start shifting it. I also advise you to see a therapist who specialises in abusive relationships. Here you have a professional who is trained in this, where you have a sacred and safe space to be vulnerable, and they can support you in healing, or being with this, or getting out, but ultimately it will be your choice. Some churches have support groups, if you are religious.
When the couple involved are high profile as in both cases, do you believe this puts more pressure on the abused partner to stay?
Naude-Lester: It could play a role, but once the survivor of the abuse realises that she (or he) has unlimited resources in terms of support, media coverage and other platforms to speak out, it should in some ways actually be easier to leave the abusive relationship.
Steinberg: You really love the life that comes with the abuse, and the life and perception people have of this fantasy you portray is more important than having a life without that, and you get stuck in the illusion (or delusion) that it will get better. The shame and humiliation that come with the breakup when you are high profile can be too much to face.
Khumalo: Some stay for financial and economic reasons, some are scared of the stigma of a failed relationship, and many other reasons. One would imagine that being in a high-profile relationship is a lot of pressure, so being abused does make it harder to report and leave.
What traits can a woman look out for if she suspects her partner is abusive?
Naude-Lester: Temper problems, irrational beliefs regarding the roles partners have to play in relationships, manipulative traits in general, obsessive behaviour, intense jealousy and controlling behaviour are possible warning signals. Steinberg: You are put down in front of other people, you are abused sexually, he speaks badly behind the backs of other people he is seeing, and you cannot talk to him about anything. You are threatened in any manner. He plays games with your feelings and tries to manipulate you. After intimacy you are treated like a stranger, you are on eggshells the whole time and don’t know where you stand. He is an active alcoholic or drug user, using substances to avoid feelings. You are called for last-minute get-togethers, and seldom go on dates.
What social factors contribute to moulding abusive partners?
Naude-Lester: Patriarchal systems that give specific gender groups an imbalanced sense of power (that it is okay to treat others with disrespect) probably plays the biggest role.
Khumalo: The assumption is that if you grow up in an abusive home, there are higher chances that you will be an abuser yourself because the behaviour is learned.
Often, women remain attracted to their abusers even though they know the relationship has turned toxic. What is the cause of this?
Steinberg: There is a powerful book called Power And Control: Why Charming Men Can Make Dangerous Lovers by Sandra Horley. In this book she speaks about why these woman do not leave. What happens is the man lures you, your friends and family in with his charm, and you become the envy of all the women who would love to be with this charming man. Then he starts to abuse and it can be very subtle, and it can be very direct, now you start complaining to your friends / family who are shocked you could speak about him like this as they have fallen in love with his charm, so you start to doubt yourself and isolate yourself. You then get trapped in a world where he beats you / abuses you, then claims to love you, then beats you, then claims to love you.
What tips can you offer women who want to leave an abusive relationship but are afraid to?
Naude-Lester: Speak up and tell someone, abuse needs silence and secrecy to exist. Another voice helping you to think of options is paramount in changing the mindset that your abuser has imprinted on you. If needed, ask the police to assist. And most importantly don’t tell your abuser about your plans to leave.
Khumalo: The cycle of domestic violence cannot end without a woman putting a stop to it. If a woman thinks she is being abused, she needs to consult and seek help from organisations like Powa.
• For help call Powa on 011 642 4345.