It is not just bruises and broken bones which amount to abuse, sometimes the unseen psychological scars of emotional abuse have a much more devastating effect, writes Bathandwa Mbola.
For Sarah van Wyk, it has taken several years and for her to find herself and regain confidence after an emotionally abusive marriage. While the 46-year-old was not physically beaten, the humiliation and desperation she experienced left her with deep emotional wounds.
"I do not have scars to show the world ... but today I can proudly say that I am a survivor," she said, adding that it took years to reclaim her identity.
Ms van Wyk has been treated for manic depression and has received treatment at several counselling centres in the Gauteng area.
The mother of two from Eldoraigne in Pretoria said she had found it difficult not to believe the hurtful things that her husband told her daily. He would say she was "useless, worthless, stupid and cheap".
"Half of my life I was surrounded by violence so I assumed that it was normal. The years of psychological abuse from my ex-husband made me feel like I was no one," Ms de Beer explained to BuaNews.
With a good career, what seemed to be a good marriage and two children, she felt like she had got everything a woman could wish for in life, she said recalling the happy times early on in her marriage.
"I cared deeply for my husband and our two daughters and gave them everything. They were my world and I wanted the best for them. But I was thinking very little about myself."
Recalling how the abuse started, Ms van Wyk said her husband who was had previously drunk very little alcohol, began drinking more and more until eventually he was drinking everyday and began coming home late.
At first he blamed his moods on work stress, but as the months passed she realised that the problem was much deeper.
"I started asking him to open up to me but he refused...and that's when the ordeal started."
Her husband began picking on her and complaining about everything in the house from the food she made which he described as not good enough, to the way she wasting money on unnecessary things to the "cheap" manner in which she dressed.
"He constantly told me how stupid and worthless I was and that I was sick in my head. He would hurl the most degrading insults at me," said the tearful woman, adding that it was at that point she decided to rather keep quiet when he was around to stay out of trouble.
She said her culture and values also made her decide against revealing her awful situation at home to friends and family, which she now realises was a betrayal to her community.
The turning point came when her husband decided to burn all her clothes because they were too revealing.
"I came home from work to find out that all my clothes where being burned because they where too inviting to other men. He accused me of sleeping around. From that moment, I decided to break the silence because I knew if I didn't do something soon I was going to be next."
She said it was one of the most difficult decisions in her life and it was made worse because her husband had been a member of the South African Police Service. She applied for a Protection Order and few weeks later, her husband applied for a divorce.
"I had to though. I did it for my daughters, even though it took a few years, for the sake of my daughters. I could see how the situation was starting to affect them."
One of her daughters, 12-year-old Amanda*, is still finding it difficult to come to terms with her experiences and is in therapy to work through her ordeal.
Ms van Wyk said she wanted to tell women who are trapped in abusive situations to stand up and get help.
"My message to other women is to speak out. Get out and get help. You are not alone. Because you live in affluent homes with high fences does not mean we have be keep quite when things go wrong. Break the silence."
The van Wyk's story is not uncommon in South Africa. Thousands of women throughout the country experience abuse of some form in their lives, despite government's progressive agenda which lists gender equity, pervasive domestic and sexual violence as a priority.
Although no definitive statistics exist, estimates for the number of women assaulted of verbally and emotionally abused by their partners in South Africa remain shockingly high.
It has been reported that one out of four South African women experiences violence from an intimate partner, and despite the commitment to women's rights, in reality, women who are battered are often very reluctant to seek help.
Chief Operations Officer at the Department of Social Development, Zane Dangor said cultural beliefs and perceptions are at the root of gender inequalities in many societies.
He said gender-based violence reflects inequalities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims.
The extent of violence globally against women and children remains a cause for worry and concern. "Any of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls, including their reproductive and sexual health, and in some instances result in death," said Mr Dangor recently.
Chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equality, Nomboniso Gasa, said South Africa was still struggling to integrate human rights with women's rights.
"You find that the criminal just system has got to be working properly, people are failed by the system, girl children are failed by the system and we need to tighten that process and ensure that turn-around within reporting, conviction and sentencing is actually much quicker.
"People must be protected and justice seen to be done," the Chairperson said. - BuaNews
* Not her real name