When a woman clutching an infant, a nine-year-old daughter battling cancer and the stick her husband used to beat her arrived at a safe house for women, social worker Gaye Moonieya knew she’d found her niche.
“I hate bullies and injustice really gets to me,” said Moonieya, a former Daily Dispatch journalist who once ran a shelter for streetchildren. Now the manager of Christelike Maatskaplike Raad (CMR) East London, she is devoted to helping physically abused women.
“This woman arrived with the police and with all her possessions in packets and she cried all the way from the office to here and was so relieved when she saw this house. When I saw the big stick her husband used on her, I realised I was in the right place. I am a fighter and it made my anger rise.”
Moonieya is also the project manager of Victory House, a stately double-storey suburban house which serves as a safe house for women and their children escaping domestic abuse.
The well-appointed home, whose address must remain secret for the women’s safety, was once run by Living Waters, but in March 2016 became the responsibility of the CMR.
Seated in the sunny lounge of the eight-bedroom home, Moonieya told the Daily Dispatch that women from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds sought refuge at Victory House, where their free three-month stay includes a seven-week on-site therapy course.
“It can happen to anyone across the spectrum – it is just more hidden in the suburbs. When the women get here you could expect all will be well, but the circumstances they have been living under are so abnormal that they have abnormal ways of coping, and so that must be healed with therapy. They need to heal and know their worth so they know they don’t deserve to be treated like that. Some women do go back [to their abusers], but are more empowered not to tolerate the abuse anymore or they go back on condition the men go for counselling. Sometimes it takes a while for women to leave.”
Moonieya said domestic violence was often coupled with the sexual abuse of children in the home and cited a case in which a teenager was sexually abused by her stepfather who also physically abused her mother.
Verbal abuse and emotional abuse is as harmful as physical abuse and Moonieya said it was important women understood this and men dealt with their anger issues and frustrations.
“What are you teaching your child – that it is okay to be spoken to like that?
“One little boy prayed at our dinner table and said ‘thank you for a safe place to live’.”
Violence against women and children is so pervasive that she had even seen it played out in public at the Esplanade. “I saw a man publicly menacing a woman with a knife and when I intervened he wanted to shake my hand. Men think they can do this publicly and get away with it and they do. Men are also broken and need help, but our priority is women.”
Because women often depend financially on their abusers, they have to find a way to become economically independent and the Victory House team tries to up-skill some women to make them more employable.
Moonieya has many ideas she would like to implement to make the NGO more self-sufficient and to further help those who find safety there.
“My dream is to open a house as a second phase to this one where women can live while they start to work. I would also like to start a crèche and a charity shop. They would be income generators and create jobs for women as well.”