Lawyers Against Abuse

South Africa is experiencing epidemic levels of gender-based violence, GBV, and victims and survivors of GBV are being grossly violated by the system designed to protect them. Lawyers Against Abuse, LvA works to create systemic change to prevent abuse, protect victims and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. To achieve this, LvA is on a mission to empower victims with direct legal representation; to encourage victims to claim their rights; to catalyse improved system response through targeted impact education; and to support and respect the rights of victims in the process.
Apr 4, 2014

Managing Sexual Violence in Schools

Hillbrow Participants in Know Your Rights Workshop
Hillbrow Participants in Know Your Rights Workshop

“But a man cannot be raped!” yelled a young woman from Hillbrow during a recent workshop at the Hillbrow Community Outreach Foundation. The young man next to her vehemently disagreed, insisting that anyone could be raped. Both turned to the workshop facilitators for guidance, indignant and certain they were correct. This workshop, conducted by LvA on March 31 2014, is the first in a series of community based workshops designed to create awareness around sexual violence and introduce a new resource we have recently developed entitled “Managing Sexual Abuse in Schools: A Guide for Children, Families and Community Members”. The journey to this handbook and the accompanying community workshops has been a long one. In 2012, LvA found itself involved, within a short span of time, in 8 cases of sexual violence in schools. Each of these cases involved the rape of students by teachers and misconduct by police, prosecutors, and department of education officials in the way in which the cases were managed. Together with two of our partner organizations, LvA worked to push these cases through the Department of Education and the criminal justice system. As a result, one teacher has been dismissed and the other cases are still pending.  Appalled by the lack of teacher accountability within schools and the weak government response to so egregious an abuse of power, LvA decided to develop, in collaboration with our partner organizations, a handbook for students, their parents, communities and educators. The handbook focuses on how to identify incidents of sexual violence with a step-by-step guide on how to report these cases. It is illustrated to make it easy to read and is written to be accessible to anyone aged 9 or older. On April 11 2014, we are hosting a launch at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg to introduce the handbook to like-minded organizations, state actors and educators.

We soon realized that the handbook alone is not sufficient to raise awarenss around issues of sexual violence in schools. We have therefore begun a series of workshops for students in schools and aftercare programs in order to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to identify and report cases of sexual violence. We also plan to conduct workshops and distribute the handbook amongst community-based organizations, paralegals and police officers working on cases of this nature. We believe that awareness raising and information sharing are necessary steps in addressing sexual violence in schools and hopefully shifting attitutes within communities about the gravity of sexual violence. Our first workshop at the Community Outreach Foundation demonstrated the need for such workshops as well as the handbook. Through their comments we learned that the youth were accutely aware of the prevalence of sexual violence in their schools and communities and had been fed a lot of information regarding such violence. However, while some of their knowledge was accurate, much of it was steeped in stereotypes and misunderstandings around gender-based violence.

By the end of our workshop, all conceded that a man, like a waman, could be the victim of sexual violence and other similar misunderstands were resolved as we worked our way through common misconceptions. Our hope is that the knowledge shared will be passed on to others in the community and with time, the stigma attached to sexual violence will lessen and survivors of violence will be more inclined to come forward.

Hillbrow Participants in Know Your Rights Workshop
Hillbrow Participants in Know Your Rights Workshop

Links:

Aug 29, 2013

A grandmother's determination

In the two months I have worked at Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) I have experienced first-hand the barriers to justice for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.  In attempts to engage with government authorities on behalf of our clients, I have been yelled at, verbally harassed and simply ignored.  The re-traumatization of individuals seeking help is real and sometimes all attempts to alleviate the problem feel futile.  But in my short time at LvA I have also met individuals whose perseverance and sincere desire for justice has resulted in real change.  I would like to share with you, our supporters, a case that demonstrates the strength of one such individual.

When I first met Maddy, with her gentle smile and dainty hat, I could not have guessed the number of obstacles she had encountered in her pursuit of justice.  A year before our meeting, her mentally-disabled teenage grandson had been raped by an older woman, an incident he described to Maddy as “being forced to make a baby.”  Outraged, Maddy approached the police who turned her away despite their duty to open a case and ensure immediate medical and DNA testing.  When finally in court, the Magistrate told Maddy that the case was “rubbish” and repeatedly made clear his views that the accused woman could not be guilty of such a crime.  Maddy lodged a formal complaint and successfully requested a new Magistrate.  Nevertheless, the new Magistrate found the woman not guilty and the State Prosecutor chose not to appeal.  A lack of appreciation for the boy’s mental disability and stigma against male victims of rape most likely riddled the remainder of the proceedings.

Where most would have given up, Maddy became even more determined.  She approached LvA insisting on an appeal and, on her own initiative, arranged a meeting with the Chief Prosecutor.  Because of Maddy’s perseverance, LvA is now working together with the Prosecutor’s Office to bring an appeal in this case.  The Chief Prosecutor not only listened to Maddy’s concerns but warmly welcomed assistance from LvA, demonstrating her genuine desire to see justice done.  Public officials like her are a further reminder that we are moving in the right direction. 

This case will be the first time LvA has been invited to assist the State in a criminal proceeding.  It will serve as a unique opportunity for us to support State officials in a case of gender-based violence and develop a relationship that will in future assist other victims.  This also represents an important step in realizing LvA’s vision of an integrated approach to gender-based violence, one in which prosecutors, police, hospitals and community-based organizations work together in supporting victims and survivors of violence.  Most importantly, by working together in this case, Maddy’s desire for justice can finally be realized.

[Please note that the names in this piece have been changed to protect our client’s identity.]

Links:

May 28, 2013

One Step Closer

Our Volunteers
Our Volunteers

To our valued donors

Firstly, thank you so much for your continued support for our cause. As you know, Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) is a non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa, which provides urgent legal services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence. The vast majority of our cases to date have involved young women, who have not only experienced some form of abuse, but have been further victimized when they attempted to report this abuse to authorities. Here, we would like to share one of our successes from the past few weeks with you.

This case involves a 12-year-old girl whose teacher threatened her at knifepoint, before kidnapping, drugging and raping her. In February, LvA – along with its partner organisations – acted on her behalf by lodging a complaint of gross misconduct against this teacher with the Gauteng Department of Education.

Though he was initially found not guilty at an internal disciplinary hearing, an appeal against this decision was referred to the MEC in the Department. This time, the appeal was upheld and the teacher was found guilty of all charges against him, which should result in a dismissal from his teaching post.

Please know that this positive outcome would not have been possible without your support. All donations received contribute towards LvA’s role in cases such as these, where we can provide expert legal advice and assistance. LvA is proud to be part of a group of organisations who are working to make a no-tolerance approach to sexual violence in South African schools a reality.

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