Survivors courage breaks the cycle

Date: December 1, 2009
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Working in the field of violence against women has been quite a journey and experience for me, both empowering and at times very sad. Every year, Gender Links works in partnership with other organisations to provide survivors of gender violence with opportunities to tell their stories. Having participated in this project, I know that by telling their stories, survivors begin a healing process. I also know that each of these stories represent thousands more that never get told.

On the one hand, working with survivors of violence has made me a better person, opening me up to other peoples experiences. I have become more knowledgeable about my rights as a woman and can educate other women about their rights and abuse.

On the other hand, I have had depressing moments. As a counselor you are exposed to a lot of sad and gruesome stories about women abuse. You want to help, you want to intervene but there is only so much you can do. You can’t hold the hand of the law and direct it to where you want it to go.

Just like the stories told in the “I” Stories, I see how the inherent injustices and unfairness of the criminal justice system continue to haunt a lot of women we work with. But we do not have the power to give women the verdicts that they want in court. Sometimes some of our clients end up being killed, murdered, shot, and as a counselor you begin to ask yourself, what could I have done differently? How could this have been avoided?

To the survivors who have the courage to take a stand and speak out, I want to say again – you are my heroes and you are my sixteen year-old daughter’s heroes. I hope and pray that she won’t become one of these stories one day. Because of you who have broken the cycle, because you took the decision to speak out, she will be more aware of her rights.

It is not possible to erase the pain and abuse of the past, but no one need to be permanently damaged by it, when I as a counselor look at women who come to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) for counseling and who speak out to tell their stories and I see strength, determination, and power. That is what it takes to survive abuse and have courage to speak out.

The greatest gift a mother can give her children is to set an example, take control of her life now and thus help them to recognise the realities of the abuse and light the way for them. When our children, no matter how old, tell us of abuse, we must support them. We must not only see our children, but hear what they are saying – the time for silence has passed.

To women who are survivors of childhood incest, who have been silenced by their families and abusers, most of them they never talked about it hoping time will heal them, but time alone will not heal at one point or another in your life it will come back to haunt you. To mothers we are raising children who are hurting and angry if your child was abused you need to take her for counseling even if you don’t want to open a case.

Many people fear counseling because they are afraid of what they will find out. Sometimes they fear opening the door that might unleash monsters inside. Often they think that going to a counselor means they are crazy. This feeling is particularly threatening for abused or formerly abused women because they were taunted often by abusers as being “sick, crazy needing mental help or needing to be locked up.” They also fear what other people will think.

Counseling is an empowering option in helping you better understand you better and work through changes and problems. Do not be afraid of the word “problems.” Having problems is part of being alive and everyone has them. Finding ways to solve them is part of the adventure. For me, working on women’s issues is not a job, but a passion, something I do to make women’s lives better, one woman at a time. We are all responsible and we can all make a difference.

Maureen Xaba is a counselor with People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), she also acts as a counselor during the “I” Stories Project. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.



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