Kaone Mmereki* was in her late twenties when she met her husband at a music festival. He had all the makings of an ideal 21st century man to fall for: kind, intelligent, wealthy and caring. She fell in love with him quickly and felt he was the one for her when she saw how much he loved her two daughters from a previous relationship. In an interview with The Midweek Sun, Mmereki stated how she overlooked some red flags before their wedding seven years ago. “He abused alcohol and took offense when I complained.
He told me it was his money and not mine, yet when I asked for money to do my hair, he would drag,” she said. Nonetheless, she went ahead and married him. She would later fall pregnant, and had twins, and this is when her husband now became openly abusive. “He called me fat, complained about my stretch-marks and said he was no longer feeling me sexually. He said I had got too big down there,” she said, adding that he also started sleeping outside home. During their marriage, he regularly abused her. And here is the kicker: She did not know he was doing it.
Because no hitting was involved, she simply did not have a name for the behaviour that made her feel diseased in his presence: the subtle put-downs, the physical avoidance and the mocking. Experts do, though. They call it emotional abuse, and it is as widespread in romantic relationships as it is misunderstood. In the simplest terms, emotional abuse is behaviour and language designed to degrade or humiliate someone by attacking their self-value or personality. While a normal couple may disagree about how to spend money, for example, an emotional abuser will make his partner feel as though she is too stupid to understand the intricacies of finances. It can range from verbal abuse — yelling, blaming, shaming, and name-calling — to isolation, intimidation, and threats. It also commonly shows up as stonewalling and dismissing, behaviours that make victims feel alone and unimportant.
University of Botswana graduate Matildah Montsho says the emotional abuser gets a feeling of achievement. “It’s either he is insecure or downright weak. Men who generally abuse women, especially women, have something to hide. Sometimes they had it tough growing up without someone to look up to and therefore lacked guidance,” she says, adding that a man who swears at a woman is a weak man. From Women’s Shelter Women are emotionally abused in their relationships, according to Kagisano Women’s Shelter director Lorato Moalosi.
The highest numbers of women they accommodate are those that have been made to feel worthless by their partners, married or single. These, she says, include, being an absent partner or father, use of harsh words, being threatened to be dumped or divorced or even killed. “Being told you are nothing, or when he doesn’t take care of you and/or the children, being called a useless bitch are just examples of what our clients go through,” she says. However, Moalosi does not dispute the fact that men also get abused but she says women experience it a lot more, and even daily. A 2010 situational analysis on Gender Based Violence in Botswana shows that more than half of women are forced to have sex without protection. Half of the women in the country have experienced GBV and are more likely to be infected with HIV.
Twenty-three percent of pregnant women experience violence during pregnancy. Experts say that its effects can be devastating: depression, anxiety, and destroyed self-esteem. “It’s very erosive,” says Marti Loring, Ph.D., author of Emotional Abuse. “Whether it’s overt or covert, the abuse negates a woman’s very being.” Kenanao Mmusi, 30, had a boyfriend who would accuse her of being promiscuous for having dated one man he knew. He would even discredit her ex-boyfriend and call him ‘useless.’ “When any family members or friends called her, he said they were stealing time from him, even though they were living together”. Psychology graduate Montsho says that women should always look out for warning signs that include blaming, a sense of entitlement, jealousy and a feeling of dominance. *Kaone Mmereki is not the interviewee’s real name