Abuse and Domestic Violence – The Silent Crime

Bertus Preller


 “When you’re in a broken family and your role model is a violent male, boys grow up believing that’s the way they’re supposed to act. And girls think that’s an accepted way men will treat them.” –Rep. Jim Costa

On 25 November 2012 the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children commenced and will end on 10 December 2012. It is an international campaign and takes place every year from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day). During this time, the South African Government runs a 16 Days of Activism Campaign to make people aware of the negative impact of violence on women and children and to act against abuse. It is estimated that one in every four women is assaulted by an intimate partner every week, that one adult woman out of every six is assaulted by her partner, and that in at least 46% of these cases, the men involved also abuse the woman’s children.

It is extremely important to increase awareness of abuse and build support for victims and survivors of abuse. South Africa has one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the world. And, sadly, domestic violence is the most common and widespread human rights abuse in South Africa. Every day, women are murdered, physically and sexually assaulted, threatened, and humiliated by their partners, within their own homes.  More than 56 000 rapes and sexual offences were reported in South Africa in the 2010 financial year. This equates to 154 reported sexual offences each day. It is conservatively estimated that only one in ten sexual offences are reported, due to a lack of faith in the system. In 2010, most incidents of assault 35,7%, occurred at home. 29,8% of sexual offences took place at home and 18,5% of sexual offences took place at someone else’s home.  The crime figures released by the Minister of Police for the period April 2011 to March 2012 revealed that 64 514 sexual crimes were comitted over that period, thus 179 people per day were sexually assualted or raped in that period.  The available data also indicates that incidents of domestic violence, in which especially women are victims, are increasing. A recent survey conducted in Gauteng found that half the women living in Gauteng 51.3% have experienced abuse or violence, and 75.5% of men admitted to perpetrating abuse or violence against women. The same study found that one in four women had experienced sexual violence, and 37.4% of men disclosed perpetrating sexual violence

According to Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) statistics last year, up to 65% of police stations were not compliant with the Domestic Violence Act, which means that they were not providing the necessary support to victims of domestic violence and 53% of domestic violence victims were incorrectly told they were not allowed to lay a charge after being abused and 96% of domestic violence victims were not given information on their rights, such as having the right to apply for a Protection Order when they go to their local police station. It is inconceivable that a woman who has had to endure the trauma of being abused by a family member or partner is subjected to the indignity of having their case poorly managed by the police.

Although the exact percentages are in dispute, there is a large amount of cross-cultural evidence that women are subjected to domestic violence significantly more often than men. In addition, there is consensus that women are more often subjected to severe forms of abuse and are more likely to be injured by an abusive partner. Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Some studies have shown that women who assaulted their male partners were more likely to avoid arrest even when the male victim contacts the police. Another study concluded that female perpetrators are viewed by law enforcement as victims rather than the actual offenders of violence against men. Other studies have also demonstrated a high degree of acceptance of aggression against men by women. Domestic violence also occurs in same-sex relationships. Gay and lesbian relationships have been identified as a risk factor for abuse in certain populations. Historically, domestic violence has been seen as a family issue and little interest has been directed at violence in same-sex relationships.

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour that transgresses the right of citizens to be free from violence. When one partner in a relationship harms the other to obtain or maintain power and control over them, regardless of whether they are married or unmarried, living together or apart, that is domestic violence. The ‘harm’ can take a variety of forms, whether it be from verbal abuse like shouting, emotional abuse like manipulation, control and/or humiliation, physical abuse like hitting and/or punching, and/or sexual abuse like rape and/or inappropriate touching of either the woman or her children.

The majority of adult victims are women. The victims and survivors are not more likely to belong to any particular racial, cultural or language groups. The majority of perpetrators are male and usually live with the victim at the time of the abuse. There is an important association between the propensity to domestic violence and drug and alcohol use.

What can you do if you are abused?

Domestic violence is regulated by the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998. The Act was introduced in 1998 with the purpose of affording women protection from domestic violence by creating obligations on law enforcement bodies, such as the South African Police Services, to protect victims as far as possible. The Act attempts to provide victims of domestic violence with an accessible legal instrument with which to prevent further abuses taking place within their domestic relationships. The Act recognises that domestic violence is a serious crime against our society, and extends the definition of domestic violence to include not only married women and their children, but also unmarried women who are involved in relationships or living with their partners, people in same-sex relationships, mothers and their sons, and other people who share a living space.

A protection order, also called a restraining order or domestic violence interdict is a court order which tells an abuser to stop the abuse and sets certain conditions preventing the abuser from harassing or abusing you again. It may also help ensure that the abuser continue to pay rent or a bond or interim maintenance.  The protection order may also prevent the person from getting help from any other person to commit such acts. Victims may also file a criminal charge in addition to obtaining a protection order and get a court order to have the perpetrator’s gun removed, if applicable. Other remedies may also be available, depending on the exact nature of the abuse.

A restraining order can be applied for at your local magistrate’s court.

Bertus Preller
Family Law Attorney
Twitter: @bertuspreller
Email: bertus@divorceattorney.co.za
Tel: 021 422 1323

Bertus Preller

Family law and Divorce Law attorney at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is the author of Everyone's Guide to Divorce and Separation which will be published by Zebra Press in May 2013, he is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers, magazines, television and radio shows. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high net-worth individuals. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.

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