Gender-based violence and your legal rights (Listen: podcast)
Azania Mosaka's interview with attorney Lindsay Henson (from Lawyers against Abuse) and trauma counsellor Lana Snoyman explores the rights, support and legal remedies available to survivors of gender-based violence. #DiscoverYourVoice and be empowered today.
Discovery is putting the spotlight on gender-based violence and bringing hope through the #DiscoverYourVoice campaign.
This campaign includes:
- Three incredible interviews done by Azania Mosaka for the Discover Healthier podcast series. Azania speaks to five passionate and dynamic women who are fully immersed in shedding light on gender based violence, and bringing support to those who experience this kind of crime.
- A basket of holistic support designed for Discovery Health Medical Scheme members, which includes immediate and confidential trauma and scheme support, linked to Discovery's emergency services and trauma support benefits.
Listen to Azania's chat with Lindsay and Lana now and #DiscoverYourVoice
You can listen to the other podcasts in this series here:
- Article 1 of 3: Azania interviews Sasha Lee Olivier, our dynamic and passionate reigning Miss South Africa. As a survivor of sexual abuse, she is driving the #ItsNotYourFault initiative to remove the fear that prevents survivors from speaking out.
- Article 2 of 3: Azania interviews Mara Glennie who started the TEARS Foundation and service executive at Discovery Health Raffaella Ruttell about #DiscoverYourVoice and giving Discovery Health Medical Scheme members who experience gender based violence access to immediate and confidential trauma support and scheme benefits.
Here's are some key insights from Lana and Lindsay's interview with Azania
- What is gender based violence? What is its impact?
Lindsay explains: "Legally, we define or explain gender based violence as violence perpetrated against you because of a vulnerability associated with your gender. This includes all forms of sexual violence, domestic violence, and child abuse. While anyone can be a victim of this kind of violence, it disproportionally affects women and girls. Gender based violence often results in significant mental health distress for victims who may go through clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder with debilitating trauma, fear, helplessness, humiliation, feeling guilty or shameful because of what's happened to them, often with suicidal thoughts or attempts."
Lana adds, "Survivors of gender based violence are often mentally beaten down first, through belittling or bullying until the person believes what the abuser tells them and has a feeling of complete voicelessness, becoming vulnerable to the physical abuse that follows. They wonder: 'Will anybody believe me?' 'Where do I go from here?' The risk of suicide is very high when people feel captive, terrified, and beaten down. That's why it's critical to find someone they can trust to confide in such as a good friend, a religious leader, a teacher, a SADAG [aSouth African Depression and Anxiety Group] counsellor, social worker, lawyer, a police officer perhaps - people who are not going to re victimize or re traumatise them."
- What are some of the greatest contributing factors to gender based violence in South Africa?
"It's a complex and multifaceted issue. One of the greatest contributors is the power imbalance within our patriarchal society. Socially and politically, men have long held the majority of power and been treated as superior to women," says Lindsay. "This also leads to perceived norms around sexual entitlement. High levels of substance abuse in our society add to the problem and so does the intergenerational nature of trauma and violence. Children who witness violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of violence as adults."
- How have lockdowns and measures designed around the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem?
"Both in South Africa and abroad we've seen increased rates of violence as people are trapped in their homes with their abusers for long periods, and are facing increased stressors: financial pressures, food insecurity and other things that fuel frustration and aggression," says Lindsay.
Lana adds, "People use crutches like cigarettes, drugs and alcohol to cope with stress. For a long time, cigarettes and alcohol weren't on sale in South Africa. People felt financial stress along with a sense of loss - loss of self-esteem, loss of jobs, loss of choice and loss of freedom of movement, which led to a tremendous amount of frustration, anger and outbreaks of rage. I have not, in my entire professional career, responded to as much abuse and domestic violence as during our national lockdown."
- What is your message to victims and survivors of gender based violence?
Lana has this message for victims of abuse: "There is light. Please reach out. Please believe that there is hope for you. There is counselling and legal support for you. Believe that you are worthy of greater self-esteem and that abuse is not normal. There is a better chance for a better life if you trust yourself, trust your gut instinct and reach out for assistance."
Lindsay adds: "I would say to women: You are not alone. And, what is happening to you or what has happened to you is not your fault, it is wrong. There are individuals and organisations out there that are ready and willing to help. Speak out, and keep speaking out until you find the help that you need."
- What is your message to perpetrators of gender based violence?
Lana says, "I would like you to try to understand your need for control and dominance. And know that you will not have the final say or the final hand; the legal system will get you. Your need to control, dominate and abuse has got to stop. And this comes with education and training. There are men's support groups that can help you to break down the aggression, frustration, loss of self-esteem and other factors fuelling your behaviour."
Lindsay adds: "Understand that what you're doing is wrong and is having life-long consequences for the women and children that you're hurting. So stop and to get the help that you need to do so. The legal process is critical to holding perpetrators accountable for their actions as they are then prevented from continuing to perpetrate violence. This sends a broader message that these crimes aren't going to be tolerated. I cannot stress how important it is to have having a strong, responsive and effective criminal justice system in the fight against gender-based violence."
- What are the challenges that victims of gender based violence face in accessing support?
"Unfortunately, many victims of gender based violence experience what we call 'secondary victimisation' in their pursuit of justice," says Lindsay. "This includes not being believed when they reveal what has happened. Maybe the perpetrator is also the breadwinner and so the victim is told to keep quiet. Victims also experience victim-blaming attitudes with questions like, 'What were you wearing?' They may not be helped by the police or even be encouraged to drop the case or negotiate for damages as 'you're not going to win this case'."
"Then, victims also find testifying in court extremely re traumatising. They have to face their perpetrator, sometimes for the first time since the attack. Questions asked in cross-examination are meant to test the credibility of witnesses but they can add to the victim's trauma. Also, for many people this is the first time that they've even had to tell their stories since reporting it in to the police. Many of them have had no bridging therapy or counselling in the days, months or years that have passed. Then, for the small percentage of cases that may come before the court, the delay in getting there is very discouraging and often victims will withdraw because they don't actually have faith that they're going to ever see their day in court, or that the justice system will work for them."
- What's the first steps in getting out of an abusive relationship?
- Try to save a little bit of money every single month for an emergency fund to support yourself and your children when you remove yourself from the abusive situation.
- Start making plans to remove yourself from the abusive situation. Slowly move clothes and essential items to a safe house or space, under very tight controls. Ensure your plans remain secret and your move will remain private. Try to find a space where your presence will remain private.
- It is critical that you only turn to people you can absolutely trust to keep your plans and movements confidential.
- How does a victim of gender based violence get a protection order?
Lindsay explains that the Domestic Violence Act defines domestic violence quite broadly. It includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse and economic abuse. In the case of these abuses, an individual can approach the court and apply for a protection order.
To start the process of applying for a protection order, you can download the forms online and fill them out in advance. And, if you don't have access to the internet, you can just go to your nearest magistrate's court, say you want a protection order and then the clerk will advise you on how to complete the forms.
First, you get a temporary (interim) protection order (part of civil proceedings) that will be served on the perpetrator. Then the victim returns for a final hearing where they get a final order issued, customised to their circumstances. If the perpetrator violates any of those terms, then they have committed a criminal offence and the victim can then open a criminal case. One of the great things about protection orders is that they never expire.
What's also great is that the domestic violence courts are designed to be accessible and victim friendly. Victims don't need their own lawyer. They can go in and represent themselves. The process is quite informal once in court and the magistrate often speaks directly to the victim.
- Lindsay, can you tell us more about criminal proceedings relating to gender based violence?
"The criminal justice system covers assaults or assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm (assault GBH), such as in the case of rape or sexual assault."
South Africa's legislation is very expansive and victim-centric:
- Victims of sexual violence can report the crime at any police station (not only the one in the area where it happened, as with other forms of crime).
- Victims can also report gender based violence at any time so it doesn't have to be reported immediately after the incident took place (although it is better to report quickly to allow evidence to be collected).
- You have the right to give your statement to the police in a private room.
- You also have a right to give your statement to a female police officer if you prefer that.
- In reality, people do face challenges in accessing help. If you go to the police station and you're not assisted - either you're turned away or they're not helpful - then you have a right to speak to the Visible Policing branch commander. If they're not available, you can speak to the station commander and lay a complaint.
- Similarly, if you've already opened a case and the investigating officer is making no progress or there is misconduct or poor behaviour, really any sort of concern, you can to speak to the Detective branch commander or even the station commander. It's easier said than done, especially if you're feeling disempowered, but those are your rights.
- What sort of help does Lawyers against Abuse offer?
Lawyers against Abuse is based in Diepsloot. Lindsay says: "We run a walk-in centre where we have a multidisciplinary team consisting of lawyers, therapists and community workers. We offer individual and group therapy and counselling, assistance with legal services and provide ongoing support through criminal cases. Currently, we provide this service only to the Diepsloot community. Then, we offer free legal advice to people who contact us from all over the country via email, phone, our website or our Facebook page.
Important contact details for support
Discovery Health Medical Scheme members can call 0860 999 911 to access Discovery's emergency services and trauma support benefits.
Other important numbers:
- TEARS Foundation: 010 590 5920, or dial *134*7355# and follow the prompts to connect to emergency services, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lana Snoyman: email@example.com
- Lawyers against Abuse: 072 031 1840 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG): 24-hour helpline 0800 45 67 89
- The National Department of Social Development hotline: 0800 42 84 28
- Childline (for child victims of child abuse): 0800 05 55 55
- LifeLine runs a 24-hour counselling emergency hotline: 0861 32 23 22