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The high cost of domestic abuse: one woman’s story

South African Sine Hope has not worked since an attack by her ex-boyfriend left her in a wheelchair needing full-time care

DOMESTIC violence costs many countries between 1% and 2% of their GDP, according to a growing number of studies.  

The global scourge not only burdens public resources including health, police and judicial services, but has ripple effects throughout society.

It increases absenteeism at work, lowers productivity, erodes household finances and disrupts children’s schooling, leading to intergenerational costs.

Sine Hope, a 35-year-old South African, was left in a wheelchair after she was beaten up by her former boyfriend in 2022.

The attack has not only robbed her of her health and future but has taken a huge economic toll.   

Sine, who lives in the eastern city of Ladysmith, told her story to reporter Zanele Mji.

I want to dance. I want to walk. I want to run again. I was a ballroom and Latin dancer. When I danced it felt like there wasn’t a care in the world. I was my most beautiful and confident.

Now it’s been over a year since I danced, or even walked. I’ve been bedridden for most of it. So, I am grateful to be mobile again even if it’s in a wheelchair.

My ex-boyfriend took so much from me. He has abused me physically, emotionally, mentally and financially.

He was soft-spoken and reserved when we first met in 2021. I was out shopping when he approached me and asked for my number. We quickly started talking for hours every day and were soon in a relationship.

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Looking back now, I think that was the first red flag. We moved too fast. But I was so happy. He gave me all the attention and time I wanted.

By the time we’d been together for a couple of months, I was head over heels in love. He’s in the military and when he was deployed, I’d drive hours across the country to spend time with him.

When we weren’t together, I still had a very full life. My dancing, my friends and family and my business.

I’m ambitious and I was proud of my success. My mother passed away, so I was a breadwinner in my family. I paid my brother’s university tuition and the household expenses.

I worked as a consultant in the construction industry. Every few weeks I would bid for new contracts, which also required me to travel sometimes.

Then my ex started instigating arguments about the men that I worked with. He accused me of being unfaithful with them. The arguments would always kick off just before my pitch meetings. I would arrive late and flustered for the meetings and began to lose out on more and more contracts.

He was also alienating me from my family. One time we had a family function at home and he kept me on a video call the entire time.

A two-month period went by without me getting any work contracts and I panicked. It was the festive season and I resolved that in January I would focus on reviving my business.

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Nine days into the new year I was visiting my ex and we enjoyed a romantic picnic together. When we got home, I was lying on the couch scrolling through my social media accounts.

He asked for my phone and read through my messages. I knew I had nothing to hide, but seeing messages from men made him angry.

He beat me so badly that I begged for my life, reminding him that my family knew that I was with him. If I died, they’d know he was the killer. That’s when he stopped. Did I almost die that night? I don’t know. I think so.

He took both my phones and laptops and I never got my laptops back.

My ear was bleeding, and the following day I went to the doctor, who advised me to go to the police. I refused because I loved him. I didn’t want to ruin his life, his children’s lives or his military career. I thought of how much it would hurt his mother if I pressed charges against him.

I also thought he’d appreciate my protection, but he didn’t.

I was a total wreck. I couldn’t concentrate on tasks. My brother dropped out of university because I could no longer pay his fees. He was studying to be a civil engineer, and he’s been unemployed since he dropped out.

I started to struggle to walk. At first, my doctors and I thought it was all the stress.

But a neurologist diagnosed me with a brain injury. In the year since I was first assaulted, I’d had multiple undetected strokes that affected my cognition and mobility.

Sine Hope arrives for an appointment at Brenthurst Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 2024. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Zanele Mji
Sine Hope arrives for an appointment at Brenthurst Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, in January 2024. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Zanele Mji

I was only with my ex-boyfriend for four months. I was perfectly healthy and independent when we met. Now I’m in a wheelchair with a full-time carer. I’m in and out of hospital.

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Still, I’m grateful to be able to afford my medical aid (insurance), even though I’m living off a disability grant and my savings. My medication is another huge monthly expense. I don’t know what I will do when my savings run out. The grant doesn’t even cover my carer’s salary.

But I’m staying positive. I’m also grateful for my doctors and the people who love me. I’m grateful for my life.

By ZANELE MJI

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