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Protection orders “just a piece of paper”

The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children has raised concern around a disregard for protection orders, “these are put in place for a very real and valid reason, yet all to often there is little value attached to the order. In some instances law enforcement officials are not equipped to deal with a protection order; they don’t know what it is, nor what purpose it serves,” says Charmaine Morris, Paralegal Advisor at the Centre.

Based in Manenberg on the Cape Flats, an area with exceptionally high incidences of domestic violence, Morris says the bulk of women seeking assistance at the Centre go there as a last resort due to a protection order not being followed. “Women are not informed of their rights when they lodge a complaint with the police; they do not know that they may open a criminal case against the perpetrator, they are not provided with information on shelters and are not offered medical assistance if injured.”

Morris says that clients at the Centre often feel like their plight has fallen on deaf ears, with some reported incidences of abuse being ignored by the police. “Our clients feel incredibly vulnerable and unsafe, we have had cases where the police don’t arrive to check the safety of victims, even though a call for help has been made. The indifference in some incidences continues into the Domestic Violence Offices at the courts, where privacy is not protected and women have to relive their story in front of a room of strangers.”

Delays in court and cases being postponed are common; “Over and above raising concerns around safety, there are financial implications here too – clients need to take time off work, they need to secure baby sitters and cover the associated transport costs of getting to court.”

Morris, who says the Centre deals with at least 10 to 15 cases of domestic violence a day, says it would be unfair to point a finger at all law enforcement officials; “there are some remarkable people working in the police force and they are doing their best under very trying circumstances, we need to acknowledge those people too. Unfortunately however, some cases fall through the cracks and that’s when lives are in danger; these cases, more often than not, end in tragedy.

Established 16-years ago, the Saartjie Baartman Centre has assisted more than 120 000 victims of crime and violence. Over the past few years, the organisation has seen a 65% increase in the number of women and children seeking assistance. A number of services, including short and long-term accommodation, legal assistance, skills training and counselling for adults and children are offered by the Centre. For more informaition or to seek assistance visit call 021 633 5287.

How to leave an abusive relationship:

  • Know your abuser’s schedule and safe times to leave.
  • Let a trusted family member, friend, co-worker or neighbour know about your situation. Develop a plan for when you need help; have code words that you can SMS if you are in trouble, agree on a visual signal like a patio light – on equals no danger, off equals trouble.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room; report what happened to you and ask that your visits are documented.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made.
  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures.
  • Identify a place of safety for your children.
  • If you need to sneak away, be prepared. Make a plan for how and where you will escape.
  • Set money aside; ask trusted friends or family members to hold money for you.
  • Pack a bag. Include an extra set of keys, your ID book, birth certificates, bank cards, marriage license, clothes for yourself and your children, shoes, medications, banking information, money – anything that is important to you. Store them at a friend or neighbour’s house.
  • Keep a list of important numbers; friends, relatives, your doctor and an emergency shelter near you.
  • Be careful when reaching out for help. Erase your Internet browsing history, websites visited for resources and e-mails sent to friends and family asking for help. If you called for help, dial another number immediately after, in case your abuser hits redial.

Distributed by Be-cause Integrated Communications:
Beverley Houston
beverley@be-cause.co.za
021 447 1082 / 082 824 8617

On behalf of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children:
Director: Shaheema McLeod