Domestic violence is often viewed as an issue between men and women, and mainstream discourse can often ignore abuse within same-sex and queer relationships. Focusing only on heterosexuality leads to a disregard for situations where violence occurs outside heterosexual relationships.
Nwabisa Mazana, 22, is a University of Cape Town student and activist, who continuously uses her voice to speak up for those who are disempowered.
In this piece, Mazana urges South Africa’s queer community and allies alike to stop the silence around abuse, and to stand in support with survivors rather than deny their experience.
By Nwabisa Mazana
The spaces that LGBTQIA+ people create and occupy are often described as “safe”, meaning that these spaces will have minimal to no danger and it should be guaranteed that your queerness will not be interrogated.
These spaces are important because we know that within them, we are allowed to be ourselves without suppression or constraint.
But, what happens then when these “safe” spaces have also become violent and filled with perpetrators we are afraid to name?
Just a few weeks ago, the @queersurvivors page was created on Twitter as a platform for victims/survivors in South Africa to be able to name their abusers anonymously without the fear of being antagonised or harmed.
This page created a thread of perpetrators — with some named more than once — and survivors were coming forward to say that they have been scared to share their stories because they know that their abusers have power.
Some posts ended up being deleted, however, because the survivors said they were being antagonised by the abuser and their friends.
This was a clear depiction of the culture that has been created within queer spaces — we have normalised this culture of silence and fear in our spaces by thinking that, if we are not the ones actually perpetuating the abuse, it has nothing to do with us and we can turn a blind eye.
We all add to the problem by prioritising our relationships with known abusers. Often when someone speaks up and shares information about their abuse, we respond by saying “not my friend, sibling, or cousin”.
Instead of holding each other accountable when named as perpetrators of abuse, we shun victims and accuse them of bringing bad vibes — yet we spend our days tweeting about the importance of accountability.
We often see that multiple stories have to come out naming the same perpetrator before the victims are believed, and even then there are people who ask: “Where is the proof?” or “Why did they wait so long to report it?”
This is violent because we know it’s nearly impossible for abuse victims who are queer to seek help — because of a myriad of issues, such as not wanting to disclose sexual orientation to the police, family members and friends, or places of employment due to the rampant homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in our societies.
When people do seek help, especially from the justice system, they are often mocked or their cases ignored — one of the reasons we need these safe spaces in the first place.
Meanwhile, this culture of silencing and ignoring victims within the queer community continues the cycle of abuse and sends the message to perpetrators that they can abuse as many people as they wish, because they will always be protected and their transgressions will be ignored.
Abusers and perpetrators get to live and exist in queer spaces, freely, while their victims are scared and driven into hiding.
It is completely absurd that victims are forced to stay away from certain queer spaces and gatherings to avoid being triggered. The onus doesn’t fall on the victim to keep themselves safe while we continue to parade spaces as safe, but invite and welcome known perpetrators into them.
We have a collective responsibility to end the silence about the known abusers we harbour in our circles, instead of silencing and ostracising their victims.