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It’s Women’s Month, yet we hear of the tragic suicide of Kensani Maseko, a student from Rhodes University who was allegedly raped by her then-boyfriend in May, we have to ask ourselves are we doing enough to keep the women of South Africa safe. For most women, abuse is a very slippery slope. In the beginning, it’s all sunshine and roses but before you know it his behaviour has changed. There are, however,  warning signs to look out for that help spot an abusive relationship, before it goes too far.

The following are behaviours that you should watch out for:

He is charming. All your friends love him.

He will want to commit — quickly. He will say that it’s love at first sight, that you are made for each other, and that he can’t imagine his life without you. He will sweep you off your feet, and tell you he has never loved anyone this much. He will insist on being exclusive right away, and will likely want to move in together, or even get married, very quickly. He needs you to love him and to belong to him. You may feel like the relationship is moving too quickly. Trust your instincts.

He’s controlling. He interrogates you intensely about who you talked to and where you were and insists you ask for permission to go anywhere or do anything

It’s all your fault. Abusers often feel sorry for themselves or make themselves the victim. He makes you feel as though his behaviour is your fault and that you owe him. He will make you think that no one loves you and that you are lucky to be with him.

There’s isolation. He tries to cut you off from family and friends. He will make you feel very guilty for wanting to spend time with others, or doing other things.

Cruelty to animals and children. He kills or punishes animals brutally. He also may expect children to do things beyond their ability or tease them until they cry.

Verbal abuse. He constantly criticizes you or says cruel things. He degrades, curses and calls you ugly names. He will use vulnerable points about your past or current life against you, but always apologise after and say that he will never do it again. He may even blame you for making him angry in the first place

Sudden mood swings. He switches from loving to angry in a matter of minutes.

History of abuse. He admits to hitting women in the past, but he blames them and the situation.

Violent threats. He makes statements such as, “I’ll break your neck,” but then dismisses it with, “I didn’t really mean it.”

Abuse is a vicious cycle. Abuse, forgiveness (promises that he never to do it again, buys gifts and then it starts again.

So what can you do if you or one of your friends are in a situation like this?

“Planning, planning and planning is what is needed,” says Cape Town psychologist, Ilse Terblanche. “Many women in abusive relationships are unaware of their rights and they have become very isolated from friends and family, which make up the usual support network. When things are really bad, a woman almost needs more strength to stay than to go.”

When you find yourself in this situation:

Call the experts. Contact Namola or a woman’s organisation such as GBV helpline. GBV is a free helpline that will be able to give you support, tell you what your rights are, give you counselling and suggest possible places to stay.

Call in support.  If possible make contact with family and friends. You will need support not only when you leave the abuser but it may also be helpful to have a couple of male friends or relatives to be there when you tell your abuser.

You deserve better. You deserve to be safe and respected. And you deserve real love, not control. If you or someone you know is being abused, you do not have to face it alone; request assistance with Namola – we’re here to help

Not sure if you are in an abusive relationship? Take this test

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