By Jessie Ngoma-simengwa –
FOR a long time, the focus of intervention in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has been slanted towards survivors of different types of abuse.
The holding of perpetrators accountable through the judicial system appears to be the only form that brings justice to the survivors who manage to seek legal redress.
However, a psychologist in Lusaka argues that it is not enough to tackle GBV through punishment without seeking a clearer under-standing of the causes.
“We cannot deny the fact that perpetrators have been overlooked,” says Bwembya Bwalya, a psychologist at Chainama Hills Hospital in Lusaka .
He said in an interview that identifying the causes of GBV, which should include assessing the behaviour of perpetrators, would be a practical step towards finding lasting solutions to the problem.
Mr Bwalya further said some issues in homes which seem insignificant should not be overlooked because they could turn out to be triggering violence.
A 2019 last quarter report by the Zambia Police Service provides evidence that GBV has been on the rise in the country.
During the third quarter of the year, 6, 788 occurrences of GBV were reported country-wide, compared to 6, 114 recorded in the third quarter of 2018, translating in a 9.9 per cent rise.
Some scholars observe that early and effective intervention could be achieved if would-be perpetrators of violence were detected and dealt with.
Systems of intervention are important for communities which need to have structures in place, including counselling services for the survivors.
Mr Bwalya said community awareness and sensitisation on GBV should be intensified, with the help of the media.
Therapy centres have been associated with the Western world, but today all societies have embraced counselling as an important element.
Cases of children regarded as unwanted, those neglected, sexually abused, bullied, demeaned, or are victims of many other inhuman behaviour have largely been unattended to for many years.
According to Mr Bwalya, some perpetrators are victims of their circumstances and, therefore, need support to change.
He observed that some families let perpetrators of child sexual violence go scot-free for fear of exposing the family name to shame.
“Trauma leaves untreated scars that have permanent emotional, mental and physical effects if not addressed, leading to a continuing cycle,” Mr Bwalya said.
Sexually-abused children are further stressed by the challenge of raising alarm because it is their words against the perpetrators, who may be influential family members.
In addition, abused children are inhibited by social and cultural barriers in opening up about their ordeals, and this gives room to the perpetrators to continue with their acts.
“Helping perpetrators recognise their own trauma is important in improving the lives of people they interact with as they are largely victims of their circumstances and they need support to change,” Mr Bwalya said.
According to him, social-cultural beliefs have resulted in men who are usually perpetrators respond negatively towards women.
Elsewhere, some women have been publicly rebuked by their families for exposing violent acts in their homes.
He said society should seek to understand human behaviour and personality development by examining the rules which perpetrators are part of.
Some individuals have experienced or are born in violent families and if left unaddressed, children exposed to this violence may exhibit it at some stage later in life.
“Some children today have no role models in the family as they live in environments where adults are disrespectful to each other,” he said.
He noted that at six years, children acquire most of their personality which could be expressed later in life, with violence being one of them.
Mr Bwalya said perpetrators of narcissistic behaviours should be identified so that they receive the necessary help.
“This kind of behaviour includes people who think their personality has been attacked, hence their behaviour lacks empathy and consideration for other people.
“They are usually manipulative, with some selfish characteristics, and think violence is a better option,” Mr Bwalya explained.
In identifying some personality disorders that may lead to violence, Mr Bwalya said some people had anti-social personalities that they may not be aware of and if no intervention is made, these lead to violence.
Personality disorders are mental disorders where people exhibit no regard for right and wrong.
Usually, such people tend not to show responsibility in their relations and families.
He said violence also emanated from individuals with bipolar disease, one of the conditions of mental illness.
“These usually have mood disorders and believe that everyone hates them. They always suspect people, chasing things which are not there and usually they obey a particular voice that results in them being abusive,” Mr Bwalya explained.
There is also an increase in drug and alcohol abuse which have triggered mental illnesses in some people, in many instances leading to violence with their partners and other people they interact with.
Mr Bwalya added that people pressed down by stress and other frustrations become irritable and tend to incite conflicts.
Interest groups such as the Zambia National Men’s Network have also expressed concern at the increase in GBV cases in the country.
Executive director Nelson Banda says even if men are the majority drivers of GBV cases, they are also abused.
The network, which has seen more than 200 men in areas of operations being violated upon, challenges men to reflect on their socialisation.
Mr Banda said the network was working in different places such as Chongwe and districts in Southern Province, where men and boys were being sensitised on GBV.
“Through the Trusted Men Campaign programme that we have launched, we realise that boys are the men and husbands of tomorrow.
“Therefore, the socialisation process needs to begin at an early age in order to inculcate the right values,” he said.
As a result of sensitising people at family and community level, some men now participate in supporting survivors of GBV.
Some cases are not recorded because of difficulties that survivors face such as lack of transport to seek medical attention and reporting to the police.
If a matter is referred to court, attending court sessions becomes another uphill battle for financially-incapable survivors.
Mr Banda said the organisation had initiated a men’s comfort centre, where men were being rehabilitated to help address violence.
It would be important to increase facilities with supportive structures to address abuse and other societal challenges.
“For us to make remarkable strides in our fight against gender-based violence, we need to realise that both victims and perpetrators are affected by this interaction,” Mr Banda said.
As the mental health experts have rightly observed, Zambia should broaden the mechanisms of tackling GBV by not solely focusing on survivors, but also addressing the perpetrators.