Domestic Violence Act: Public Hearings on implementation over past years

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

27 October 2009
Chairperson: Ms B Thompson (ANC) & Ms B Mabe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee held public hearings on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, No 116 of 1998, over the past ten years. A wide variety of submissions were received from the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Disabled People South Africa, Women of Farms Project, S A Civil Organisation, National Institute for Crime and Reintegration of Offenders, Advice Desk for the Abused, Women in Action, Department of Justice, Tshwaranang legal Advocacy Center, SA Catholic Bishops Conference, Gun Free Society and The Shelter Focus Group, as well as a number of individual women who had suffered abuse not only by their partners or family members, but by the system that failed to protect them.

The submissions covered a number of issues, and Members commented that few of the submissions were directed towards the Domestic Violence Act itself, but towards its poor implementation. Consistent concerns were raised over failure to explain their rights to victims, the time taken to obtain a protection order, the fact that obtaining such an order often sparked further violence and the effectiveness and implementation. Many submissions noted that secondary victims such as children witnessing violence were affected, and that there was a failure to protect children either from being drawn in, used as shields, or in situations where one partner may have killed or injured the other. Further concerns were raised over the non-compliance of the police, lack of training and insensitivity of personnel in dealing with domestic violence cases, failure to arrest, as well as charges to the Independent Complaints Doctorate against the police. The link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence was highlighted in more than one submission. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of housing offered to women who were victims of domestic violence, which often left them with no choice but to return to the perpetrator. Other concerns addressed the needs of women suffering from depression or disability as a result of violence, including the lack of court facilities and interpretation facilities for the disabled.

The Committee commented that the public hearings had raised some very significant points, and that the impact of domestic violence on children and secondary victims must be addressed. The Departments of Justice, Human Settlement, Health and the SAPS were asked to respond to some particular issues that had been raised. Individual cases would be followed up. A strategy would be developed based on the outcome of the hearings.

Meeting report

Domestic Violence Act (DIVA) No 116 of 1998: Implementation over the past ten years
Co Chairperson, Ms B Thompson (ANC) stated that this was a historical event, where departments, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and ordinary individuals would get the opportunity to express their views on the successes and failures of the Domestic Violence Act (DIVA).

Co Chairperson Ms B Mabe (ANC) added that every new day was an opportunity to start again and to clarify thinking and vision

South African Human Rights Commission (SHARK) submission
Ms Prigs Go vender, Commissioner, SHARK, noted that the focus of her presentation would be on people with disabilities, children, and the elderly, since the Commission for Gender Equality be dealing with the challenges faced by women. She stated that woman with disabilities, the girl child and elderly woman experienced a combination of effects of abuse, and that poverty contributed to the abuse of these groups as it caused an imbalance in the power dynamics.

Ms Go vender noted that the Domestic Violence Act provided for the involvement of specific government role players such as South African Police Service (SAPS), and the Department of Social Development (DAD), but that the Committees needed to ascertain the extent of their involvement, including the budget allocated to specific programmers. She highlighted the need for the Committees to look at the choices made by the various departments with regard to how their budgets were allocated, and the extent to which they were prioritizing matters of domestic violence and making attempts to decrease it. The training provided to SAPS was of concern, and whether this training achieved its aim of sensitizing police to deal with the victims and the power dynamics involved. She touched on the impact of domestic violence on children. Corporate punishment within the home should be abolished, and this was a matter that the Committee needed to look into.

SHARK recommendations included the need for more information to be made available. She stressed the need for awareness to be raised in a more intense manner as it was imperative for people be informed of their rights and the services available to them. Political figures should realize that their words had an important role in increasing or decreasing the violence against woman and children. There should be regular personnel training. Victim empowerment programmers should be sensitized to better deal with the issues around abuse. There should be more research done, and the mental health needs of children should be put into consideration. The barriers and obstacles that that prevented women from using the Act to protect themselves should be investigated. The Act should also work in conjunction with other societies for effective change to be realized. Economic policies on addressing poverty and unemployment had a role to play as they affected the power that people had. She urged the Committee to look at budget allocations, training, and the level of commitment shown at a national level.

Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trauma Unit
Professor Sebastian Van As, Red Cross Children's Hospital Trauma Unit, said that his presentation would focus on the effects of alcohol abuse and media violence on children. He said that the hospital worked very closely with Child safe that dealt with research, education and advocacy. Health was a very imported aspect of people's lives and it was a pity that there was only one children's hospital in South Africa, when 20 million out of the 50 million people in the country were children. He emphasized that every child had a constitutional right to safety. The majority of accidents and homicide cases were alcohol related. A South African Multi-Center Study showed that accidents were the top killers, and 65 000 children died each year as a result of injury. A child in Cape Town was 25 times more likely to be involved in an accident than a child in Europe. Often parents contributed to the cycle of abuse, and 80% of the time it was alcohol related. He talked about accidental abuse, which occurred when children witnessed adults fighting, or was used as a shield without the intention to harm. Half of the children at the hospital with injuries were used as a shield, and every one of those cases the perpetrator of the violence was male. Alcohol was involved in 70% of all trauma cases, and 80% of all domestic violence cases. The cost of alcohol on the state was R25 billion. He recommended that alcohol advertising should be banned, together with sports sponsorship by the alcohol beverage industry. Prevention of injuries and accidents should be promoted at all levels in society, with particular focus on the most vulnerable group, which were children between the ages of 0-8 years. Public health oriented research should be conducted to ascertain the causes and consequences of injuries due to crime, violence and unintentional incidents in South Africa. Research that would serve to identify, support and develop primary prevention, injury control and safety promotion should be encouraged.
With regards to media violence, he said that by the time a child reached the age of 16, he or she would have witnessed 200 000 acts of violence and 20 000 murders. There were times when violence was broadcasted simultaneously on all four channels. Children from low income groups were more influenced by media violence as they were more likely to be left unsupervised as parents worked long hours. He recommended that a more comprehensive strategy to decrease the senseless celebration of violence in the media should be developed.

Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) said that she disagreed with the statement that children from low income groups were the most affected by media violence. Most of these children did not even have television sets.

Ms Thompson agreed that children from higher income groups were the most affected as they had more access to television.

Ms H Malgas (ANC) asked why the focus was being placed on children between 0-8 years of age, and stated that children at age 10 were just as vulnerable.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) agreed that television (TV) played a negative role. He asked how this could be addressed, stating that the media's argument would be that they provided what the market dictated.

Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) asked what happened to the children after being treated in hospitals.

Professor Van As agreed that children from low income group often did not have television sets, but stated that the point that he was making was that these children were more vulnerable because their parents were away for longer. He agreed that children of all ages were vulnerable; however those between 0-8 years were even more vulnerable due to their lack of maturity and inability to protect themselves. He gave the example of a four-year old child, who could be told not to stand in the middle of the road where cars were driving, and the child could repeat the instruction back, but might not have the sense to get out of the way if he or she was in the middle of the road and a car was approaching. He agreed that the media would argue that it was merely providing what the people wanted, but said that, given the magnitude of the problem this country had with violence, it was ridiculous to simultaneously broadcast violence on all the channels. There should be educational and history channels, and only one channel broadcasting violence so that people could have a choice.

Mr G Selau (ANC) added that this should apply to all media and not just to TV channels.

Disabled People South Africa submission
Ms Sithabile Zulu, representative from Disabled People South Africa, spoke about the challenges faced by disabled people. Disabled people had a problem accessing the courts and reading the signs in court rooms. Sometimes, if they were in court, they would find that nobody spoke sign language to be able to interpret for them. In addition, the sign language used in court was the formal sign language, which differed from the more colloquial language used in the homes. Sometimes the disabled person found it hard to understand that formal sign language, and it was not permissible for that person to use a relative or friend to interpret. Even when there was an interpreter, it still often meant that the disabled person would not have his or her views properly understood and conveyed.

She said that disabled people were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Often the abuse started at home. The disability grant for children was usually used to buy food by the care givers. However, when the disabled person reached adulthood, it was often the case that he or she wanted to use some of the money in their own way, and not necessarily as the caregiver was using it, and this then caused conflict in the family. In most instances the care giver did not work, but was spending all the time looking after the disabled person, and it was very difficult for a disabled person to report the caregiver for abuse.  In situations where one disabled person was abused by another disabled person, they were often told to go and sort it out by themselves. An example of this would be when two disabled people were involved in a relationship, in which one was an abuser.

Ms Zulu recommended that all disabilities should be included in section 14(3)(b) of the Act. The DVA did not make provision for the disabled abused to be taken to special homes. The homes available did not have the facilities to cater for disabled people. There should be places of safety that the disabled could go to, and the staff should be sensitised to the needs of disabled people. Resource kits did not include information on the disabled, and therefore the personnel were unable to handle specific issues or problems that were faced by the disabled. This made cases take longer, which compromised the case. Often a mentally ill person might forget what had happened. Sometimes the disabled complainant would be asked whether she or he had seen the perpetrator or was asked to identify the perpetrator from a group of people. This was a problem for the blind, and often compromised the case or led to the case being dismissed. She recommended that cases should be followed up, even after being concluded, to ensure that that the disabled were not being undermined. Often doctors were asked to testify or write a report on the victim's state of mind. Sometimes these reports testified to the disabled person's mental incapacity, which again often compromised the cases. An example would be when a doctor testified during a rape trial that the disabled person's mental incapacity was so severe that they did not feel trauma while being raped. This would then be used to argue the point that because the victim had not felt any pain, the act could not be considered as rape.

Women on Farms Project (the Project) Submission
Ms Colette Solomon, representative for the Women of Farms Project, highlighted the challenges faced by women on commercial farms. These women were physically isolated from police stations and courts. This physical isolation also affected the police's response. The women did not have access to housing in their own capacity. All housing contracts were in the husband's name, which limited the women's ability to negotiate or leave the relationship. The scarcity of shelters in the rural areas also limited the women's options on where to go should they decide to leave the abusive relationship. The behavioral actions and attitudes of the police towards these women were often demeaning and disrespectful. The police did not inform women about protection orders. When a protection order was granted, this usually increased the intimidation, and often the police did not enforce the protection order. Sometimes the husband would run away when the police arrive, and no active attempt would be made to arrest him.

The recommendations she made stressed the need for accessibility to courts and police stations, gender sensitisivity training, and training on various aspects of the Act to improve its implementation. Women on farms should have independent access to housing in order to better deal with the reality of the situation. There should be a budget allocated for training and other areas if the Act was to be successfully implemented. She then handed over to Lynn Erasmus to tell her story.

Ms Lynn Erasmus, a woman from a commercial farm in Ceres, told her own story to illustrate some of the problems that women on commercial farms encountered. She said that she was married with three children. Her husband came home drunk every Friday night. When drunk, he would become abusive and throw her and their three children out of the house in the middle of the night. She was dependent on her husband for income and housing. She had been to the police, but had not been told about the interdict. She was advised by a friend to obtain a protection order. He husband behaved for a few weeks, but soon returned to his abusive ways. She reported this to the police, and but he would run away when they arrived. When he was arrested, he would be released the following day.

Ms Thompson thanked Ms Erasmus for her bravery. She said that a protection order was a just a piece of paper, and some women might die while holding it, unable to obtain real protection. She said that the Departments of Social Development, Justice, Human Settlements and the SAPS should pull together to change the current situation. She said that if the government was doing its job, woman like Ms Erasmus would not have to suffer.

Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) Submission
Mr Mfonoselwe Shosi, Commission for Gender Equality said he would skim through the issues outlined in the presentation. He said that the submission would identify some gaps in the DVA that CGE had experienced in assisting complainants, focusing on the different approaches between civil and criminal remedies, and the application of the protection order. He explained how DVA came in existence, and gave a definition of abuse. There were some forms of violence that occurred outside the domestic setting, but still affected vulnerable groups such as women. These other forms of violence should be looked into. The DVA placed an obligation on the SAPS to comply with various aspects of the Act. Failure to do so was regarded as non compliance, and such misconduct would be reported to the Independent Complaints Doctorate (ICD). Failure to arrest was the most common form of non-compliance. He said that the problem was that it was the SAPS's duty to report this to the ICD, but that it would be better if the reporting was delegated to another body. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ) was a major player with regards to the implementation of DVA. However, there had been numerous complaints about the clerks at courts who were charged with dealing with this Act, lack of timeous assistance, the inability to obtain protection orders outside court hours, to name a few. The complainants were not being advised to lay separate criminal charges where appropriate, nor that they could ask for dangerous weapons to be removed.

There was a need to account for the current trend with regards to DVA cases. There had been 119 866 protection order applications, 75 424 interim orders, and only 63 013 final orders. This number was too low. The number of applications increased from 119 860 to 222 919 but 85 330 cases were struck off the Court roll. It was important to understand the reasons for these trends. The lack of information was undermining the attempt to understand the impediments in the DVA. The reporting mechanisms should be improved. In cases where a criminal case was opened, it should be reported that the crime was associated with domestic violence. SAPS’s members did not have a clear understanding of their obligation. They did not fully understand the meaning of “imminent harm” in Section 8(4). This was clear from their failure to remove dangerous weapons. There were other weapons, either than a firearm that could be used to cause harm.

The recommendations he made included the training of specialised personnel to follow up on the implementation of DVA, as was the case with the maintenance claim. The onus should be on all law-enforcing agents to report accurately and sufficiently on domestic violence. The term “imminent harm” should be removed to avoid confusion. Monitoring and compliance provisions should be provided for in the DVA to ensure proper implementation at all levels.

Submission by Mrs Msomi
Mrs Msomi said that she had experienced abuse from her husband, sons, and daughter in law. She explained that her husband worked away from home, and that he hardly came home or sent any money. When she decided to go to his place of work she discovered that he had another wife who was unaware of her husband’s existing marriage to Mrs Msomi. When she went back home, her sons were abusing and mistreating her. They stopped supporting her, and her daughter started insulting her and sending her rude messages. Her son and daughter in-law were both police officers. When her daughter in-law threatened to kill her, she applied for a protection order against her daughter-in-law. She stated, however, that when she got to court to enforce her protection order, she was told that the restraining order was in fact against her, and she was treated like the perpetrator instead of her daughter-in-law. She said that the protection order was, for her,  just something that was not worth the paper it was written on. She said that now both her sons were ill and had to undergo medical treatment. Their wives had disappeared, and she was left to look after them. She said that her husband also returned home when he got ill, and insisted that she had to look after him as well. She said that she was looking after the very people who had abused her, although she did not have the means to do so. She asked for assistance, and went on to encourage other women in her position.
Ms Thompson said that this was very similar to Ms Zulu's statement that people were being abused by the very people who were meant to be protecting them.

South African Civil Organisation (SACO) Submission
Ms Sibusisiwe Mngadi, representative of the South African Civil Organisation, said that her presentation would focus on psychological and emotional abuse as the other forms had already been mentioned. She said that there were three aspects that should be considered. There was a social aspect in as far as behavioral patterns were concerned. The justice system did not always lead to conviction and lacked consistency. There was also an economic aspect, since abuse affected school and work performance, and therefore the performance of the economy. The many loop holes and gaps that were open to abusers then brought politics into play. Often political debates drove the focus away from the victim. In cases of emotional abuse, the victim was humiliated, controlled and deliberately diminished. Information was withheld from the victim, who did not realise that she or he was being abused. The abuse was initially confused with love, and when it did become clear, the victim usually hid behind misinterpreted “cultural practices”. Children were often silent victims, with the effects of the abuse becoming clear later in life. An example of emotional abuse arising from misconstrued cultural practices was ukuthwala, which was no longer relevant in today's times, but was still happening in rural areas. Even the way in which this tradition was being carried out differed from the way it was done in the past. Another form of emotional abuse could be that the perpetrator removed the victim’s support system, and actively sabotaged their relationships. This emotional blackmail was sometimes justified by the victim.

She said that there were challenges in the legislation. Psychological abuse was often misunderstood, and was not easy to prove. The turnaround time of cases was open to manipulation. Often the victim was sent from place to place, having to retell the story and reliving the same horror. Many victims became exhausted before the case even got to court. There was also an issue as to whose duty it was to take the protection order to the perpetrator. The DVA was clear on this, but the police were not trained to deal with these matters. She recommended that the SAPS, Correctional Services and the Department of Justice should work together to improve the turnaround time and allow for integration.

National Institute for Crime and Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO)
Ms Vanessa Padayachee, representative for NICRO, stated that her presentation would focus on the key challenges around domestic violence. She named the biggest challenge as the lack of a comprehensive domestic violence strategy. There was a lack of co-ordination and the services were very fragmented. Far too much burden was placed on the victim to access courts and other requirements, in order to bring the perpetrator to book. Often there were financial ties to the perpetrator, and yet there were no support structures in place for the victim. There was a failure to focus on children. The cycle of violence was being allowed to perpetuate itself in the lives of the children.

Risk assessment was not being properly done. There were long queues for protection orders, with some people having to return the following day. Some women did not return for their interim and final protection order after returning to the same abusive homes. There seemed to be a lack of understanding as to the complexity of domestic violence. There was a lack of staff and recourses. The Domestic Violence Court was the busiest court but was inadequately staffed.

The perpetrators should also be taken into account. Domestic violence was not criminalised in South Africa because not all the perpetrators of domestic violence were criminals. There should be ways to assist in integrating them back into the economy after a risk assessment had been done. Many women wanted the violence to stop so they could go back to their homes, which was where risk assessment came in. NICRO had a 9-12 month programme for offenders. The challenge, however, was that behavioral change was a long term process that needed the help of other departments. Many offenders were not ready to be integrated after 12 months. Most of the cases they had were court mandated, and if the abuse occurred again, the offender would be taken back to court. However in most cases, nothing was done when the offender was taken back to court, which raised the question of whether the courts were taking this seriously enough. Women were also not being advised that they could lay separate criminal charges. She recommended that a comprehensive domestic violence strategy should be developed. Intensive risk assessment should be conducted. Protocol should also be put in place to ensure that safety mechanisms were in place and that children were catered for.

Ms O Duncan (DA) asked what programmes the Women on Farms Project had for recreation purposes.

Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) agreed that interaction between the various departments was vital. She said that what came out strongly was the issue of safety and the protection order.

Ms D Robinson (DA) said that there should be support for men too on the farms. She referred to the statement by NICRO that a lot of counseling was needed. SAPS’s victim rooms were filled with laymen, and no professional staff. Professional counseling was needed for the victims and their families. She asked if this was something the Committee could consider, and whether law should be looked into.

Ms Ditshetelo referred to the complaint that was made by Ms Msomi against the police. She requested a response from the police department regarding this. Ms Ditshetelo asked the CGE what would be done about what had been said. Lynn Erasmus’s story was heart breaking, and something should be done about it.

Ms Duncan asked whether the CGE had conducted research into the reasons why many women did not return for their protection orders. She agreed with NICRO on the need for a comprehensive strategy.

Mr Shosi responded that CGE would be engaging with the Committee with regards to a gender barometer report that spoke on a host of issues. He said that the Commission’s mandate was to monitor government departments. Last year magistrates were monitored with respect to the Equality Act. When an issue arose, it was investigated. The CGE should be informed of cases such as that of Ms Erasmus. He said that CGE had taken the details of some of the cases mentioned, and these would be followed up.

Ms Colette Solomons said that the Women On Farms Project could not cater to all the women's needs. They instead focused on what their rights were, and the services available to them. However, there was a young woman's programme where education was given in a recreational manner. She said that the former “dop system”, where part of the wages were in the form of wine, had created a dependency on alcohol on the farms. The very same farmers were not investing their money in redressing the problems that their forefathers created, through recreation and rehabilitation. She said that the question that Lynn Erasmus and other women in her situation had was what the CGE would do to help them.

Ms Thompson asked what Lynn Erasmus would suggest that government should do for her.

Ms Erasmus said that she would like to be provided with housing. She could not leave her abusive relationship because she had nowhere to go.

Ms Thompson said that obtaining a court order was really the last resort for woman like Ms Erasmus. Often these women still loved their husbands, and wanted to be with them.

Ms Solomons agreed that this was often the case. Ms Erasmus had said that she would not divorce her husband as she loved him, and that they were happy when he was sober. She said that rehabilitation was needed for these men.

Ms Lindiwe Lisindwe, Commission for Gender Equality, said that CGE would follow up on the matter. The police station concerned would also have to respond. She said that Ms Erasmus had to consider what she wanted, and the consequences of this matter receiving further attention, such as what she would do if the protection order was followed up and implemented, which would lead to her husband being arrested. The government was working on housing, but that that would depend on whether Ms Erasmus was on the government's list or not.

With regard to giving an allowance to the people who were caregivers, she said that this had not been approved. The caregivers would often give the reason for not being able to support themselves as the fact that they were employed because they had to look after the disabled person. This was effectively asking for an unemployment fund. There were alternative solutions to the problem. Food parcels could be obtained from the Department of Social Development, after it had assessed the family's needs. She also said that Mrs Msomi should be assisted. He children could be taken to a hospice where they would be looked after to relive her of the burden. She added that the successes that the DVA had had should also be taken into consideration, in order to properly assess both the challenges and the successes.

Submission by Ms Quahnita
Ms Quahnita told her story of how she had been abused, and how the law had failed her. She was married in 2006, and the marriage lasted for a year. It took her six months to obtain a divorce in terms of Muslim rites, and she was denied access to the marital home. She was admitted to hospital for depression, given Schedule 5 medication and had medical records to prove it. When she went to court to obtain a protection order, she was given notice to show cause. She said that in the meantime her husband had hired lawyers and brought a claim against her. She said that she also had to respond accordingly and get lawyers of her own. The matter dragged out for eight months, up to the point where she could no longer afford the legal fees. On I November 2008 an agreement was signed, stipulating that neither of the parties would contact each other or talk about the matter. Her husband breached the agreement and started contacting her again. She went to the courts and was again, was given notice to show cause. In the mean time her husband went to the religious authorities and obtained a statement highlighting certain religious aspects. She said that she had also approached them for more than a year, and that the courts had been her last resort. Two weeks ago the court agreed the agreement had been breached by her husband, but stated that it was a religious issue, and that the nature of the abuse was not recognised by the courts.

Ms Mabe said that what came out clearly in this story were the cost of legal services and the issue of culture versus the law.

Ujallar Parmusar Submission
Ms Ujallar Parmusar spoke on the effects of mental and psychiatric disability. She said that people with these kind of disabilities appeared to be fine at first. There was a very strong link between women’s issues and disability issues. She was raped at the age of nine, and was sexually abused from the age of nine to twenty-one. She did not receive any proper treatment, and when the perpetrator died, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown. Women with mental or psychiatric disability were discriminated upon, and often nurses saw then as being brain-dead, and treated them as sub-human. She was declared insane two years ago, which was the ultimate violation of her dignity. It was very easy to accuse people with this kind of disability of something that they did not do. They usually had a record of instability and psychiatric reports did not do them any justice. Usually they also did not have the money to be able to defend themselves adequately. It was very difficult for people with these conditions to sustain employment, and the disability grant was still way below the bread line. There should be a campaign to create awareness, and the disparity and inequality should be addressed.

Ms Mabe asked which areas of the Act she felt should be improved.

Ms Parmusar replied that she had not personally read the Act, but felt that there should be more representation for people with mental and psychiatric disability who were being sidelined.

Advice Desk for the Abused
Mr Navine Naidoo from the Advice Desk for the Abused said that the last two testimonies provided the face of gender violence. He stated that these situations prevailed despite the presence of the Act. The Advice Desk For The Abused provided intermediary access to the DVA, when the people designated to that task failed to do so. The Advice Desk's focus was on early detection and rehabilitation. Femicide was the killing of women, which was occurring at a faster rate, yet receiving less attention. Victims were usually confused and wondered whether they were doing the right thing. They found it hard to confide in counselors, hence the need for support. The protection order and its impact were not really understood. Sometimes getting such an order made the situation worse, especially in cases where risk assessment had not been properly done. Although the DVA had been designed to protect women, it could be used to further entrench violence. He recommended that in the short term, the government should be making findings and recommendations public, in order to create awareness. In the medium term the government should commission extensive research on the extent of domestic violence in South Africa. The government should also commission in-depth and extensive review of the Domestic Violence Act, with specific reference to the protection order and related legislation. The recommendations for the long term included extensive public participation, nation-wide training and skills development of personnel within the domestic violence system such as the courts, SAPS, and the health sector. The 16 days of No Violence Against Women should be used for positive change, and there should be expenditure reform that enabled domestic violence architecture to be properly implemented.

Women in Action submission
Ms Gene Beukes, representative of Women in Action, said that the organisation's aim was to mobilise woman to speak with one voice. Patriarchy should be challenged and overthrown. Women's values were being undermined and their lives being brought to nothing. Male power had to be confronted and challenged. She introduced Zuraidah Peterson who would tell her story.

Zuraidah Peterson said that the abuse by her ex husband had left her with a tumour in her brain, which, when it had to be removed, left her blind, deaf, and with no sense of taste or smell. She had been abused and battered in front of her children, and on occasions the police had arrived and seen her covered in blood. Her then-husband had held a gun to her head, and she had been driven over in front of her children. She opened a case, but this did not help as her ex husband was still abusing her. The charge was changed to assault by the magistrate. Her husband sold their house, and when she went to court, she was put into another house, from which she was currently being evicted as well. She had lost her two sons, who were now living with their father, as she could no longer see to them. She was ill, unable to work and dependent on a grant after 15 years of employment. Her husband refused to pay maintenance, and although she was told by the magistrate that if he skipped a month he would be arrested, nothing was done when he did not pay. She had been abused in the presence of the police, and had laid a charge against them, but nothing came of it. She said that she would like to know why justice was not being served to assist woman. She added that if she had not been so strong she would have dead.

Ms Mabe asked the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to respond. She also requested for a response from the ICD with regards to the complaints laid against the police.

Department of Justice submission
A representative of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development spoke about the processes involved in the DVA. The DVA was an integrated piece of legislation, where various sections were implemented by various role players. She said that, according to Section 2 of the DVA, both the SAPS and the Department of Justice should give advice to the to the complainants on the options available to them under the legislation, not only the DVA but also others such as the Criminal Procedure Act. She said that the Department conducted an assessment on the court processes to ascertain whether the problem lay in administration, procedural or human resources. There was a problem with the service of protection orders. The protection order was meant be served by a members of the police, or the Sheriff of the Court. The assessment found that different courts had different procedures. The backlog of cases was caused by the gap between the service of the order and the return of service. Courts that used Sheriffs had a better turnaround time. 80% of the problems were of a practical nature as opposed to problems with policy. This had been noted and would be presented to the police. There should be standard norms and protocols on serving orders.

Ms Smah Dlikilili submission
Ms Smah Dlikilili said that her presentation would focus of the rights of victims and secondary victims. She said that the harm suffered by the secondary victims often went unnoticed. Often there would be a conviction and the perpetrator of the violence would be sent to jail, but very little consideration was given to the victim of circumstances. The perpetrator would go to jail, where there were support services. The real victims of the violence were, however, left to fend for themselves. An example would be a situation where a mother was being abused, and ended up killing her husband and being convicted and jailed, but the children would be left on their own. Social workers should take immediate action in when cases like these arose. Communities should be informed of their rights, and where to go for assistance. The police should follow upon such cases, and local government should play its part. There should be support for both the offender and the victims.

Ms Mabe said that after listening to the presentations, the seemed to be a need for the departments to appear before the committee. The public seemed to be generally happy with the DVA itself, but the problems lay in its implementation. The departments were shifting roles and the police did not seem to know what their role was.

Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre
Ms Lisa Vetten, representative from Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said that her presentation would focus on the non-compliance and non-enforcement of DVA, ineffective implementation and ineffective training. The recommendations she made included the development of a comprehensive integrated national strategy on domestic violence. The Act would be ineffective if it did not have a broader matrix, and required government and civil society respond together The Act should be one of the tools used to stop domestic violence, and not the only vehicle set to achieve this goal. The DoJ should revise its regulations in terms of the DVA. Mere guidelines were not enough, and should be developed into regulations, which made it easier to hold  people accountable. A performance monitoring framework should be developed. Standards and norms should also be developed with regard to the training of the police, and guidelines on arrest should be established.

Ms Vetten recommended the drafting of a five year plan by the Committee in order to deal with the challenges and to monitor the progress. The departments should be held to account during annual reports. The Portfolio Committees on Justice and on Police had paid too little attention to the challenges of the DVA. She commended the Committee for its initiative. She recommended that the Committee worked with the Departments of Health and Human Settlements in order to effectively deal with the challenges.

Ms Thompson pleaded with the Committee to make use of the opportunity to make a difference and make a mark. She agreed that departments should be held accountable.

South African Catholic Bishops Conference
The representative for the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) outlined the impact that South Africa's violent nature had on domestic violence. She highlighted the role of substance abuse, and said that the implementation of the Prevention for and Treatment of Substance Abuse Act would go a long way to prevent domestic violence. The police should be trained in the handling of domestic violence cases, and the importance of maintaining the domestic violence register. She stressed the importance of support groups for abused woman, and the need for the promotion of positive gender relationships in early childhood.

Gun Free Society
Ms Elizabeth Peterson, representative for the Gun Free Society, focused on the dangers posed by the perpetrator's possession of a fire arm. She stated that when an application for a protection order was filed, the respondent was given a response time. If the perpetrator owned a fire arm or had access to one, this placed the victim in great danger. She was particularly concerned that questions 5 and 8 on the Protection Order form had to be answered before the court could order the seizure of the firearm. She recommended that the question should be changed to the format outlined on page 3 of her submission. She added that a firearm was not the only thing that could be used by the perpetrator to cause harm, and that other dangerous objects should also be removed.

The Shelter Focus Group
Ms Elizabeth Peterson then gave another presentation on behalf of the Shelter Focus Group. She highlighted the challenges that shelter organisations faced with regards to accessing housing for women after they had to be leave the shelters. Shelter advocates were still concerned that the State still supported the perpetrator. There was no congruence between the Housing Act and DVA. In cases where the woman co-owned a house with her husband, she could not access another house. Women leaving the shelters had nowhere to go, and often blamed the shelters for raising their hopes. They were often left with no choice but to return to the abusive homes, or become homeless and destitute. The DVA made provision for the perpetrator to be evicted, but did not give a directive as to what was meant to happen after that.

She said that many women withdrew their charges against the perpetrators because of the dynamics of the abuse cycle. The relationship entered the “honeymoon phase”, where the abuser promised to change, and acted like the ideal partner. The woman, being vulnerable, would regain hope in the once hopeless relationship. To blame a woman for retracting charges was a failure to recognise the burden placed on this woman by the State. She recommended that domestic violence should be criminalised. The State should lay the charge against the perpetrator, and not place the burden on the woman. Interim orders should be handed out immediately. DVA should make a provision for funding to be provided to shelters. Funding should be consistent and more comprehensive. DVA should state that the marital status of the victim should not hinder access to government resources such as housing.

Ms Malgas said that the Department of Human Settlements had initially not been part of an integrated approach. She agreed that there was no uniformity when it came to the funding provided to shelters, and that the Department of Social Development would be attending to that. She added that the appreciated the motivational substance provided by the meeting.

Ms Robinson said that there was a need for an umbrella organisation to monitor all shelters and maintain consistency.

Ms Duncan requested details on the research done on the matter. She said that the issue of women who were unable to go back to their homes was a difficult issue, however it was worth the debate. It should be remembered that the waiting list for housing was very long, and that the government was failing even those who had never had housing. Improving everyone's socio-economic needs would help lesson domestic violence.

Ms Mabe said that the impact of domestic violence on children and secondary victims needed to be addressed. The safety problems and non-compliance with regards to protection orders had been noted. She requested the departments of Justice, Human Settlement, Health and the SAPS to come together and to respond to some particular issues that had been raised. Individual cases would be followed up. A strategy would be developed based on the outcome of the hearings.

The meeting was adjourned.

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