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Change the narrative of abuse, celebrity tells #MeToo seminar

  • ShalomBayit2
“There is no provocation in domestic violence. It’s not about fury, it’s about power and control,” the former “golden girl of broadcasting”, Tracy Going, told women at the Breaking the Silence #MeToo seminar held at the HOD in Johannesburg on 7 August.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Aug 16, 2018

Going recounted to a packed audience the journey that led her to write her recently released memoir, Brutal Legacy. The memoir documents the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. “It’s a brave, courageous thing to tell your story, and it’s certainly the boldest thing I’ve ever done.”

Together with Going, Lindsay Henson, the Executive Director of Lawyers Against Abuse, and Tovah Goldstein, a social worker and Community Projects Co-ordinator for Chevrah Kadisha Community Social Services, discussed the importance of using one’s voice in the fight against abuse.

“South Africa has one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the world – 20% of the country’s women have suffered abuse, according to Stats SA,” said Union of Jewish Woman SA Vice-President Bev Goldman. “These horrendous actions pay no heed to colour, creed, or economic well-being. No woman is immune.”

A broadcaster and writer for TV and radio, Tracy Going is proof of that statement. With her beaten face making headlines around the country, she suffered very publicly in the late ‘90s. By writing Brutal Legacy almost 20 years later, recounting her harrowing experiences both as a victim of abuse and the legal system, Going has given a voice to the countless abused women.

“It’s something I feel passionate about, something that we didn’t talk about at home. We pretended it wasn’t happening, but it was. It’s taken me nearly 20 years to tell [my story], and the reason is twofold: first, healing is a process, and I’ll always be healing – as will anyone who’s been in an abusive situation. Second, did I really want everyone to know so much about me?”

Yet, at the time of the broadcast of the Oscar Pistorius trial, all her old feelings came flooding back. “I started falling apart. I realised the huge injustice, and I saw it happening again in the courtroom. After a few years of therapy, I decided now was the time for me to tell my story – in fact, how dare I not?

“It was a bruising process, going back and remembering what had happened, but I’m very glad I’ve done it. I’ve taken you on a journey of a child who grew up in a home of domestic violence, and then I’ve taken you through the fear and humiliation of being caught up in it as a woman. As a woman who thought she was successful, who thought it would never happen to her.” In fact, as a child watching her father beat her mother, Going made a decision that it would never happen to her. But it did.

What followed the abuse at the hands of her boyfriend was a two-and-a-half-year legal ordeal. “I was on the stand for three days being told, ‘You’re lying, you’re exaggerating, it’s not possible.’ I was completely humiliated. I was told that I was a bad mother,” says Going. “They tried to paint a picture of me as volatile, insane, aggressive.” In contrast, Going’s abuser was put on the stand for three hours. “That was all that was required for him to tell his story, and to be believed,” she says. “Because he tells the definitive story, the one we hear all the time, the story that ‘she provoked me’. That’s why it’s so important for us to speak out and change the story.

“I had to be very aware of the voice I was using in my book, not to use the passive voice when I spoke out. Writing ‘when I was beaten up’, I realised that there was no perpetrator in that sentence, so I changed it to, ‘when he beat me up’. That’s the way we need to go out and tell our stories so that we can change the stories that are being heard.”

Going’s abuser was ultimately allowed to roam free, and she realised she’d never win through the courts. “This is not a redemptive story, but winning comes in different ways,” she says. “By going back and remembering, I’ve had to do some serious healing. There’s nothing ok about living in an environment where you are afraid that you’re going to be beaten up every single day. When he beat me up, throughout the court case, and when I was writing the book, I kept asking myself, ‘Why? Why did he do it to me? Why did he take away everything I thought I was?’ I know the answer, it’s ‘because’. Because no-one ever stopped him.”

Lawyers Against Abuse’s Henson said that South Africa had some of the most progressive laws regarding violence against women in the world. “But, the way that the law is written is very different to the way that the law is experienced by a victim of violence who is trying to seek justice. That’s something we seek to address.

“We provide support for victims, but we also try to create accountability, not only for perpetrators but for state actors.” Henson emphasises the importance of believing someone. “There’s often a misconception that abuse doesn’t happen in this particular community, or subset of society. If it’s happening to you, you feel very alone, and you’re afraid of speaking out because you feel you won’t be believed. That’s something an abuser will use against you.”

The Chev’s Goldstein emphasised the importance of speaking up, and getting the right support. “We see constantly at the Chev that women stay because they feel stuck, they don’t have any options. When you’re able to realise that you do have options, that you’re not alone, and that you don’t need to fight this on your own, then the world opens up to you, and you’re able to make clearer decisions.”

Among the Chev’s many support structures is a pro-bono legal programme. The Chev also has a volunteer court-support programme, and it is starting a finance course for women. “So often women stay because they’re financially disempowered,” said Goldstein.

“We’re also starting a monthly support group for women. If we rally together and say, ‘Enough is enough’, we’re choosing our answers. Nothing will change until somebody says, ‘Enough!’”

  • The seminar was hosted by Shalom Bayit, under the auspices of the Co-ordinating Council of National Jewish Women’s Organisations of South Africa and the Judith Harrisberg Memorial Trust.

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