• 59% of abusers were partners/lovers or spouses.

  • 67.5% of abusers were employed and 63% of these earned over R2 000 a month.

  • 71% of the abusers were between 21 and 40 years of age when they abused.

  • Of the 182 abusers with whom women were well acquainted, 69% had abused someone else before.

  • 11% of the worst cases of abuse involved more than one perpetrator. Most (83%) of these ‘multiple abuser’ cases were incidents of sexual abuse.

  • Nearly half of abusers (46%) acted as if nothing had happened after the incident.

  • 90% of women believed that abusers could be treated; of these 76% suggested therapy, rehabilitation and education, and 19% suggested imprisonment.

Violence against women is largely perpetrated by adult males, although females and youth are also sometimes responsible. Fourteen of the abusers were femal0-17 yearse. More than two-thirds of all perpetrators (whose age women could estimate) fell between 20 and 40 years of age (Table 12). A small proportion of abusers were less than 20 years old at the time of perpetrating the abuse.

Table 12: Age and gender of perpetrators of the worst incident of abuse

Age Number %
8 2.8
18-20 years
23 8
21-30 years
105 36.5
31-40 years
100 34.7
41 or more years
52 18.1
288 100
290 95.4
14 4.6
272 100.0

Table 13: Marital status of the perpetrators of the worst incident of abuse

Marital status
166 61
90 33.1
10 3.7
5 1.8
1 0.4
272 100.0

Nearly two-thirds of abusers were married at the time of committing the incident (Table 13). Just less than a third were single.

Over two-thirds of abusers (67.5%) were employed on a consistent basis; 10% worked most of the time and 22.5% were unemployed. Of the 142 perpetrators whose salaries women could estimate, 21% earned over R6 000 per month; 42% earned between R2 000 and R6 000 a month; 32% earned between R500 and R2 000, and only five abusers (3.5%) earned less than R500 per month.

Research on domestic violence in South Africa has suggested that unemployed men are more likely to abuse their wives.17 The findings of this study, however, shows that violence against women cuts across socio-economic divisions. This difference may be explained by the method used to select participants in this study, as well as the fact that definitions of violence against women are broader in this study than in most.

Although the majority of incidents (89%) that women regarded as the most serious were committed by only one perpetrator, 11% involved more than one abuser. Most incidents committed by multiple abusers were incidents of sexual abuse (83%).

Most women (86%) said the worst incident of abuse was committed by someone known to them. Over half of the abusers were partners, lovers or spouses, 18% were relatives and 9% were friends and acquaintances. Less than a fifth were strangers (Figure 8). This trend applied to all categories of abuse, although victims of sexual abuse were less likely to know their attackers than were victims of physical abuse. Of the 111 perpetrators of the most serious cases of sexual abuse and emotional/sexual abuse, survivors knew 76% of their abusers. Of these, 32% were intimate partners, lovers or spouses. In the case of physical abuse and emotional/physical abuse, of the abusers that were known to the victims, 87% were partners, lovers or spouses.

Figure 8: Relationship of women to their abusers

Women are thus the most vulnerable to physical and related abuse from intimate partners — the very people with whom women are in close contact. The study also shows that physical and emotional/physical abuse are also more likely to recur. This suggests that these women live under conditions in which they are exposed to constant danger.

Women were asked to describe how abusers behaved after the incident. The results show that abusers were most likely to act as if nothing had happened: nearly half of the women described this response. Just under a quarter said that the abuser was remorseful (Figure 9). Twelve per cent of women could not comment, since the abuser had left or they had not seen the abuser after the incident. Ten per cent said the abuser became even more aggressive after the incident, and 9% believed the abuser was uncomfortable, but did not reveal his or her remorse.

Figure: 9 Behaviour of the abuser after the incident

Abusers were most likely to act as if nothing had happened after incidents of a sexual nature. Remorse was most commonly expressed by perpetrators of physical abuse. These were also the abusers most likely to appear uncomfortable after the incident. Abusers were most likely to become more aggressive after perpetrating emotional abuse. Emotional abuse could therefore be accompanied or followed by more aggression that could involve physical and/or sexual abuse. As such, emotional abuse should be taken as an indicator of danger.

Treating abusers

Women were asked whether abusers, in general, require any form of assistance. Of the 136 women who answered the question, most (90%) offered suggestions regarding the treatment of abuse. A few (10%) said abusers should not be assisted, because they do not deserve help or would not benefit from it.

Most women felt abusers should receive some kind of therapy, psychiatric help, rehabilitation or education (Figure 10). Comparatively few women advocated harsh punishment for abusers such as long jail sentences, castration and the death penalty.

Figure10: Types of treatment suggested for abusers