Whilst driving my son to school one of these recent mornings, he broke down crying and shared a heart-wrenching story with me.
He told me how one afternoon not too long ago, whilst my two kids were with their father, their father suddenly told him to get out of the house because he needed to speak to his brother. He did as he was told. While roaming the corridors, he spotted two armed policemen entering the flat.
When he returned, he asked his brother what had happened. His brother was too traumatized to talk about it. My children’s father had called the police to intimidate my ten year old son for a silly fight with his older brother that had happened days earlier.
I immediately called a close friend of mine who has a strong relationship with my youngest son (the ten year old). I tend to react emotionally in these moments and I thought she could more calmly discuss the matter with him, in an environment and manner that would be safe for him.
This is what he told her: one afternoon, while the boys were with their dad’s girlfriend, they had a fight, a normal occurrence between siblings. During the fight, my younger son pulled out a fork in the kitchen and playfully threatened his older brother with it.
The girlfriend reprimanded him. He apologized to his brother and told him it was wrong of him to have done that and felt very remorseful. This sort of play is not accepted in our household. His brother forgave him.
Days later, after asking our eldest son to leave the apartment, my kids dad cornered our ten year old and told him he had called the police. My son said he ran to the bedroom terrified, locked the door, and packed his clothes, looking for a rope to tie around himself so he could jump out of the window from the 4th floor and run away. How terrified and traumatized he must have been? It breaks my heart just thinking about it.
Soon after, two armed policemen arrived in a police van. With his father in the room, they told him that if he were to behave that way again, he would be locked up in prison for two nights on his own, and thereafter he would be arrested in a juvenile prison.
Three adults, two of whom were law enforcement agents, ganging up on a 10-year-old child to intimidate and frighten him needlessly. My youngest son has no history of violence or anti-social behavior.
What psychological and emotional devastation he must have gone through? My heart froze when I heard all this. Was there no sane, rational adult in the room who realized that this was extreme? Even abusing state resources in order to traumatize a child! Surely, the cops should be out there apprehending real criminals, not traumatizing a ten year old child, as part of some sick, vindictive parental disciplinary attempt.
In a country where the police claim that they are often unable to respond to GBV cases due to a lack of resources, why would two cops respond to a house call in order to traumatize and frighten a child? I do think in this instance, the father placed the cops in a precarious position, they have a responsibility to accept the word of a parent and to respond in a manner that suggests care and concern.
However, this was an abusive act. My son kept this incident to himself for a couple of months and never spoke about it because he was afraid and traumatized.
I can’t imagine the internal turmoil he must have been going through all this time, saying nothing whilst internally a wreck. The one son felt so guilty that he had put his brother in a position to be arrested and didn’t want to be the cause of his brother ever experiencing such trauma again, the other son was scared of putting a foot wrong, lest his dad unleashes law enforcement on him.
I’m in the process of getting professional help for them to process what happened. The ten year old told me he was grateful that his older brother had told me what had happened because he thought he deserved what had happened to him.
He no longer trusts his father, and unfortunately, as he is adopted, the father has created a pattern of dismissive and careless treatment toward our youngest son.
The presence of armed police and the threat of imprisonment, organized by the father, for an uncharacteristic mistake, was disproportionate and frankly abusive.
However, in this country, such behavior has been normalized. I am concerned that my son may not know what else he could do that may warrant this kind of punishment from his father and as a result, he may one day do something terrible to himself in an attempt to avoid that.
Both of my children are very traumatized by this incident. As a mother, I am mortified that my children were subjected to this.
This extreme behavior has no recourse in South Africa. This is not the first time he has used state resources to intimidate even me into silence about his ‘rights’ to our children.
I recall an earlier incident where he opened a false case of abduction against me despite me being noted as the boy’s primary home in our divorce settlement, I had to spend so much money and time proving my innocence. I am taking the necessary legal measures to urgently help resolve this matter, with all its implications for my kids.
I am concerned: How many men in this country, in even worse circumstances for women, abuse state resources in order to continue terrorizing their children, wives, girlfriends, and family?
There are so many women less empowered and with less access than me, who face such abuse constantly.
My close friend and surrogate father to the children work in anti-violence and gender-based violence issues. He tells me that police in low-income communities are several deviations from the norm LESS likely to respond to domestic violence cases and very rarely generate a case file.
This is nerd speak for police don’t help women as often as they do men. I am now caught between a rock and a hard place because I do not want to leave this man with my kids at any moment.
Do we let the situation deteriorate to a point where something really terrible happens, or do we intervene decisively when all the warning signs are there? Over the years, I have concealed and suppressed so much emotional, economic, and psychological abuse at this man’s hands.
I had the false assumption that the boys needed their father, no matter how he treated me, so I would keep quiet for their sake. Alas, for me, silence has not been golden and the only weapon I have is the pen, as I am not confident that the state and its institutions will protect me and my kids in this horrible situation we find ourselves in. I thought i could cope with keeping quiet when he kept coming for me, but when the trauma spreads to my kids, I draw a line in the sand.
I have been very vocal in GBV cases, and have witnessed countless situations where women decide to be silent in the face of abuse while the perpetrator flourishes and builds a facade for the public to conceal their very dangerous flaws.
My greatest fear is that the courts will not protect me and the children in this situation and the system (legal, justice) might only step in once something tragic has occurred. I fear that my case will be seen as not serious or urgent in the face of greater dereliction, but I am ready and desperate to do whatever it takes to protect my children.
Two years ago, we had an awakening as a nation to the horrible cruelty perpetrated against women and children in this country. However, COVID has somehow overshadowed and caused us to neglect this issue.
In the meantime, men seem to be minting more power with toxic masculinity flourishing and ignoring the fight against very pernicious patriarchy that requires serious systemic and political intervention.