Who is protected from domestic violence?
The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 (the Act) protects people who are victims of the abuse and violence at the hand of those in the following relationships and arrangements:
- Marriage in terms of any law, custom or religion;
- Cohabitating but not married to each other;
- Biological parents of a child or sharing parental responsibility;
- Family members by blood, in-laws or through adoption;
- Previously dating, engaged to be married or in any perceived romantic relationship or any intimate or sexual relationship for any period of time; or
- They share or recently shared the same residence
Similar protection has been recently provided by the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 to persons who are not related or in the abovementioned relationships. What makes victims of domestic violence uniquely vulnerable however is that these crimes are committed by relatives or intimate partners, further exacerbated also by the stigma associated with abuse and domestic violence. Noticing and acknowledging an abusive relationship is said to be the first step towards ending it.
Other forms of domestic violence
Psychological experts say that the underlying cause of domestic violence and abuse is control, which can take many forms, such as:
- Rigid control of finances and withholding financial means in order to exert control.
- Sabotaging of the victim’s job by making them miss work and calling constantly.
- Isolating the victim from family and friends in order to increase dependency on the assailant.
- Intimidation designed to scare the victim into submission.
How victims can get help?
Domestic violence cases are highly prioritized by the police. The police go to great lengths to treat these cases with the urgency, sensitivity, confidentiality and empathy that they deserve.
Victims of domestic violence may:
- Apply for an interim protection order at the nearest police station, or magistrate’s court. At the Magistrates Court the court officials will assist and direct the victim to the specialized domestic violence court for issuing of a protection order.
- Lay criminal charges at the police station, where the police officers are obliged to arrest the assailant immediately if there is reason to believe that an act of violence has been committed or where there is a real threat that it will happen. The police will further search the premises and seize firearms and dangerous weapons in the possession of the person who has threatened to harm another.
- Consult an attorney who will assist with the speedy application for a protection order, and with any further necessary legal recourse for the benefit of the victim.
As result of the psychological trauma associated with domestic violence victims will also be assisted to find access, where necessary, to:
- Medical attention
- Victim counselling
What is a protection order?
Protection orders are effective in preventing further abuse and domestic violence. They are court orders which are issued at the request of domestic violence victims, ordering the assailant to stop the acts of domestic violence and often include prohibitions that the assailant should not contact the victims. These orders can be issued at any time of night or day. Before the protection order is made final by the specialized court dealing with domestic violence cases, the assailant is given a date to appear at court to give reasons why the order should not be made final. The domestic violence court setting is appropriate to deal discreetly with domestic violence cases and only legal representatives, court officials and people providing support to the victim are allowed in the hearings.
What can a victim do if the assailant disobeys a protection order?
A protection order is issued together with a warrant of arrest to enable the police to arrest the assailant who disobeys the protection order particularly where the victim is in immediate danger. After the arrest of the assailant he/she will be brought before court the next working day on criminal charges of contravening the protection order.
Where the police fail to carry out their duties in domestic violence cases, they may be reported to their station commander and such complaint will be noted in the complaints register and disciplinary steps will have to be taken against the police concerned.
The bottom-line is that for any of the mentioned protection to be afforded to the victims of domestic violence, the victims must take the first step to act. Once the protection order is issued victims should still take precautions such as keeping emergency numbers (including those of the police) on speed-dial or carrying them readily available, also making copies of the protection order for close and trusted friends and relatives who are aware of the situation.