They stood outside the salon, towards the left of the entrance, where it made its connection to the Kodak store next door. He’d extracted her from that sacred place of beauty enhancement and cornered her into a heated confrontation.
Each time he swung his hands, she squirmed like a child in the presence of terror. Her movements suggested familiarity, as she took cover against the sadistic blows. She was trying to reason, but he gave her no room; a man who appeared in angst, concerned only with what he had to say.
In what seemed like a flash, he grabbed her neck by his left hand, extracted a knife from his pocket and proceeded to dig into her chest with it.
She fell to the floor.
He turned his back on her and proceeded to deposit the weapon into his own chest many times before he also fell. It was a slow death, one that she was thankfully spared from.
This incident took place in a crowded mall in Maseru in early November and quickly became the topic on everyone’s lips in the small city. Ignorant men waxed lyrical about how she might have had it coming because she probably cheated on him. A closer looked at leaked CCTV footage showed that the woman was terrified of her aggressor and probably had a long history of violence with him. One could even speculate that his wrath was prompted by her attempting to leave him.
A childhood experience of a similar nature led me to that conclusion. After years of enduring his insecurities, accusations and alcohol induced altercations, my mother decided that she had had enough of my poor excuse of a step ‘father’. The house she was building was approaching its finish and she was going to pack my little sister and I up along with the furniture and move us to our new home, without him.
But he would have none of it.
Also armed with a knife, he had burst into the house shouting that he would rather end my mother’s life than let her defy him. For the first time, my mother fought back and escaped. Following that near-fatal, incident she vowed to never let a man near her again.
The psychology of trauma
I do not blame her.
I was not present but the trauma lives in my mind.
I still have triggers; certain words send undesirable signals to my brain. I do not react kindly to being controlled or yelled at and my guardedness often borders on paranoia. Many people who were exposed to psychological abuse in their youth are prone to depression, low self-esteem and self-harm; factors that I am all too familiar with myself.
The underlying issue to this – and the thread between my own story and that of the woman at the mall – is that violence against women is normalised in African societies to the point where some women feel that if their men do not ‘discipline’ them, they no longer love them. Those brave enough to speak out and report on their horrors are pacified with words like; “Don’t provoke him” and “Stop the back-talk when he reprimands you”. Other victims are placed at fault and given bible verses about how a perfect wife should behave. Very few ever address the reality that being physically battered is unjustifiable and that it has emotional and psychological side-effects that can take a lifetime to undo.
The side-effects of abuse
These side-effects manifest themselves in various, equally destructive ways. A woman who grew up in an abusive home is likely to find herself with an abusive lover because the familiarity has been imprinted on her subconscious. The woman who was attacked at the mall probably wound up with an unstable man because aggravated male dominance was something she was accustomed to from a young age. And as unfortunate as the experience was, she probably blamed herself for what happened; which makes it worse. That sense of guilt and liability is what breathes life into abuse and why most women wait for something extreme to happen before they make their exit.
Similarly, abusive men are scared little boys on the inside who never received appropriate counselling after years of living in abusive homes. As a result, they are likely to mimic abusive behaviour because it was presented to them in their youth as an acceptable form of communication.
Without a healthy support system that encourages disclosure and interventions for releasing anger, pain and trauma caused by exposure to abuse, the vicious cycle continues. As a result, victims – in the form of children and the adults they develop into, as well as the subjects of abuse themselves – struggle all their lives to develop emotional maturity and confidence in their capability to love and be loved wholly without hostility.
The woman at the mall will hopefully recover, but her scars from the knife wounds spread across her breasts, chest and psychology will remain.
Main image is shared from www.i.ytimg.com