South Africa recently took part in the 16 days Activism Against Abuse of for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign. However, people with disabilities and the elderly are just as vulnerable to abuse by partners and/or caregivers in their own homes, or in facilities.


Intimate partner violence (IPV) includes all forms of violence in all types of intimate relationships and includes actual, or threatened physical, emotional, sexual, psychological violence in heterosexual, or same-sex relationships. It is abuse aimed at a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, and girlfriend or dating partner. This definition should extend to all groups of vulnerable individuals.

Risk factors

Alcohol use is frequently associated with violence between intimate partners. It is estimated that in 45% of cases of IPV, men had been drinking, while the figure is 20% for women.

Meanwhile, unemployment and drug use were also associated with an increased risk for physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.

Witnessing IPV as a child, or adolescent, or experiencing violence from caregivers as a child increases one's risk of both perpetrating IPV and becoming a victim of IPV.

Men who are physically violent toward their partners are also likely to be sexually violent toward them and are more likely to use violence toward children.

Perpetrators may lack some social skills (e.g. communication skills), particularly in the context of conflict situations with their intimate partners.

A high proportion of perpetrators report suffering from depression, lower self-esteem, and more aggression than nonviolent partners. Evidence indicates that violent intimate partners may be more likely to have personality disorders such as schizoidal/borderline personality disorder, antisocial or narcissistic behaviors, and dependency and attachment problems.


Many women are still unaware of their rights when reporting abuse and even informed women traumatised by an assault are unlikely to be assertive and insist on their rights. They are afraid of further violence from the perpetrator if they attempt legal action. This is even more compounded by the introduction of the new Domestic Violence Act, which a lot of women have not yet grasped. The challenge exists for the Act, including the regulations to be made an accessible form of legislation to benefit and protect women in all areas of their lives. The effective implementation of the Act also needs to be ensured, for effective legal preventative measures (protection order) and police escorts to abused women.

The gendered nature of domestic violence has unfortunately also seen an increase in the number of women being murdered by their intimate male partners. Lack of statistical information on this form of killing makes it very hard to measure but recent newspaper reports indicate that it is increasing. Women have fought and succeeded in getting many basic rights. However, in the private sphere of their homes, the inequality between men and women is still a battleground.


Victims of violence are more likely to withdraw from society, miss work, avoid contact with others, stay in bed, and suffer from depression, stress and anxiety disorders. Require medical attention often and more so for injuries not explained, or poorly explained, or not in keeping with explanation.

Children who witness such violence grow up to resort to violence as a means of resolving conflict and issues that require communication.


There are a few ways to prevent violence against vulnerable people and they include education, avoidance of substance abuse, improved communication skills, but we need to learn how to identify people that are at risk and pick up the signs of such abuse. These people are usually short-tempered, have a history of violence, are in positions where it is easy to abuse, lack social skills, and may have psychological, or psychiatric problems.

Victims need to be educated about their rights and services available to report such abuse and know of places of safety.

It is the legal responsibility of medical professionals and ethical obligation of members in the community to report abuse even if it is a suspicion.

The law around sexual abuse and rape has been amended recently to include acts that previously were less clear. These include abuse against boys and males, acts that involved underage individuals (even with consent) and abuse that was previously considered assault. The punishment of individuals found guilty is now also more severe.

Places that can be approached for help include the police, but more often medical professionals and NGO’s like POWA, organisations for the aged, etc.