Is Alcohol Fueling South Africa’s GBV crisis?
The link between alcohol and levels of violence in South Africa has been greatly debated since the 1st of June, when the ban on the sale of alcohol was lifted. Our society experiences massive levels of gender based violence and subsequent to the lifting of restriction of alcohol sale, 21 women have been murdered in domestic violence incidents.
The question thus arises; “Are we able to demonstrate a link between alcohol use and gender based violence? “
In the President’s speech last night, he is quoted as saying, “In particular, we need to examine the effect of alcohol abuse not only on levels of violence, but also on road accidents and reckless behaviour. Several international and domestic studies show clear linkages between alcohol abuse and gender-based violence.”
Unsurprisingly, 85% of the victims of gender based violence are female, according to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics. Women experience intimate partner violence at a 5-8 times higher rate than men and most of the partner abuse takes place in the home.
Domestic violence as a legal term includes different forms of abuse :
- Physical acts, such as hitting, punching, slapping or pulling of hair;
- Sexual abuse including rape, marital rape, treating a partner in a sexually abusive and demeaning way, and molestation,
- Emotional abuse for example intentional and malicious attacks on a partner’s self-worth, and,
- Psychological abuse including controlling the partner, blackmail, threatening harm to children, violence toward pets, and intimidation.
Violence against an intimate partner can also include stalking, social isolation (for example, not letting an intimate partner leave the house), and depriving them of resources and necessities.
Various studies have identified substance abuse as a factor in 40-60% of incidents of domestic violence, either in precipitating the abuse or exacerbating it. A study by the WHO shows that alcohol use increases both the occurrence and severity of the violence against an intimate partner. More than 20% of male perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) had used alcohol or drugs immediately before the most recent incidents of violence. The Sonke Gender Justice Project conducted research into the relationship between alcohol abuse gender-based violence (GBV) in 2016. According to their studies, women with male partners who “come home drunk frequently” are 4 to 7 times more likely to suffer violence than those whose partners drink infrequently. Perpetrators of gender based violence are 5 times more likely than non-perpetrators to consume alcohol . Male-to-female aggression is 11 times more likely to occur on days when perpetrators have consumed alcohol. The Sonke Project have has also documented links between alcohol abuse and the transmission of HIV, where – problem drinkers had a 2.0 fold higher prevalence of HIV then non-problem drinkers.
Women in abusive relationships often report that their abusive partner coerced them into engaging in alcohol and drug consumption, although, even where women do not commonly engage in harmful alcohol use, men’s drinking is a risk factor. For example, a four-country study from Asia-Pacific, found if a woman’s partner drank alcohol regularly, they were more likely to experience intimate partner violence.
A study aimed at understanding the drivers of intimate partner violence (IPV), perpetrated by men and experienced by women, shows that there are multiple scenarios in which alcohol abuse leads to increases in intimate partner violence. “Consuming harmful levels of alcohol can lead to more frequent quarrelling about finances and household responsibilities, as money and time are spent drinking. For couples who often drink together, there may be alcohol-related diminishment of cognitive functioning, increasing the likelihood of arguments in relationships becoming violent. Qualitative research in one IPV prevention trial in South Africa, Stepping Stones and Creating Futures, found that one way women sought to reduce their IPV risk was not arguing with their male partner if he, or she herself, were drunk. While not transforming gender relationships, this was an important harm reduction strategy that emphasized how alcohol, quarrelling and IPV are interlinked”.
On the 1st of June, videos went viral of queues of people waiting to get into outlets to buy alcohol. Although less than a third of adult South Africans drink alcohol, almost six out of 10 drinkers engage in binge drinking, according to a 2018 World Health Organisation report. The same study ranks South Africa as the 6th heaviest drinkers in the world. South Africans who consume alcohol, drink the equivalent of 5.4 standard drinks per day. There can be little doubt that South Africans have a problematic relationship with alcohol.
Although this article has focused on violence against women, it should not be forgotten that violence fuelled by drug and alcohol consumption also takes place in same-sex relationships. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals have higher rates of substance abuse than the general population, often due to the prejudice that many of them face in their lives, and this may manifest in violence carried out within their domestic unions.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “We need to draw the lessons from this lockdown and decide how we can protect our society from the abuse of alcohol. Certainly, we need to provide greater support to people with drinking problems, including through rehabilitation and treatment…..Of course, it is not alcohol that rapes or kills a woman or a child. Rather, it is the actions of violent men. But if alcohol intoxication is contributing to these crimes, then it must be addressed with urgency”
Alcohol addiction is widespread due to its easy accessibility and social acceptance. If compulsive and uncontrolled alcohol consumption, binge drinking, blackouts and reckless behaviour under the influence dominate your life, you may be an alcoholic. If you or a loved one needs help with addiction or alcoholism, contact us for a consultation.
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