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.
Feb 22, 2016

Knowledge is Power

LvA
LvA's first school workshop in Diepsloot

On a February morning, a class of 60 students in grade 8 piled into a small classroom at a Diepsloot high school for LvA’s first workshop on Managing Sexual Violence. As the students gradually quieted down, LvA shared a fictional story about a boy named Tebogo who was sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend whom they lived with. For many in the classroom, the story of sexual abuse by someone close to them hit home.

Diepsloot is known as one of the most violent communities within South Africa, with shockingly high levels of domestic and sexual violence. Since July 2014, LvA has been working in Diepsloot to address the high prevalence of domestic and sexual violence, mostly by working with individual victims and state actors. However, in late 2015, LvA began working in local schools to respond to the huge need to empower and educate younger generations on preventing, identifying, and reporting sexual violence and abuse.

Already in the month of February, LvA has conducted workshops for over 660 students to provide a broad understanding of gender-based violence and debunk misunderstandings and myths about sex, sexuality, and what constitutes appropriate behavior. As part of the workshop, students are invited to anonymously write questions on small cards for LvA to answer. While some students had questions about harassment or why abuse happens, most questions dealt with serious situations of abuse by family members and peers and where the student could go for help. As part of the workshop series, LvA’s facilitators explained to students how to handle these situations, acknowledging the often harsh realities in which they live. But most importantly, they informed students about LvA’s nearby Legal Services Centre, where they could always go for help if needed.

This first series of school workshops were a powerful confirmation of the prevalence of sexual violence and abuse in Diepsloot and is just the beginning of LvA’s work to engage more broadly with the community to end violence against women and children.

LvA will be conducting workshops at a primary school in Diepsloot during March and April, with three more schools scheduled for later this year. Based on lessons learned from our first series of workshops, LvA will conduct workshops with teachers, prior to engaging with students, to ensure teachers are prepared to properly respond to anticipated subsequent disclosures by students. With our workshops, we hope that sharing knowledge about sexual violence and abuse empowers students and their teachers to not only properly handle these situation, but to prevent them in the future. 

LvA
LvA's school workshop in Diepsloot

Links:

Dec 1, 2015

Four Years in the Making

LvA
LvA's Diepsloot Legal Services Centre

Ever since its founding in 2011, LvA has dreamed of opening its own community-based legal services centre. In mid-October, this dream finally came to fruition! We at LvA are proud to announce that the Diepsloot Legal Services Centre is officially open! Over thirty people joined us to celebrate the Centre’s grand opening, including representatives from the Diepsloot police and fire departments, local partner organisations and clinic members, and long-time LvA supporters. 

The opening of this new Centre means that victims of gender-based violence in Diepsloot finally have a safe space to come and receive legal and psycho-social support. With private rooms for legal consults as well as individual therapy sessions, clients are now able to share their stories with LvA’s staff attorneys and psychologist in a way that better respects their dignity and privacy. A large conference room is also a welcome addition to LvA’s workspace and is already being used to facilitate larger group therapy sessions, as well as to empower young women through LvA’s on-going Sexual Violence Workshop Series (to learn more about this workshop series, check out our April 2015 Global Giving report “Finding a Voice”).

Locating the Centre just one block from the Diepsloot police station was strategically planned to best suit our clients’ needs. Previously, LvA’s office was 2.5km from the police station, requiring clients to pay for transport or spend a significant amount of time walking, often with young children, between both locations to seek assistance.  Now, victims referred to LvA by the police can easily access LvA’s services. The proximity to the police station is particularly beneficial for LvA’s criminal casework, allowing staff attorneys to accompany clients to the police station to open cases of sexual violence and domestic violence. The new location also better facilitates LvA’s follow up with Investigating Officers at the police station to ensure our clients’ cases are being handled properly. Additionally, the Centre is next door to a small health clinic and a counselling centre run by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). SADAG works with victims of sexual and domestic violence, making the site an ideal location for referrals.

The opening of LvA’s Diepsloot Legal Service Centre marks a huge milestone in the campaign to bring justice to victims of gender-based violence in South Africa. As LvA’s Head of Legal and Operations, Lindsay Henson, explained, “The extremely high prevalence of domestic and sexual violence in South Africa is a sad reality, but we at LvA refuse to simply sit back and accept it. LvA’s mission is to create a South Africa in which victims of domestic and sexual violence have access to holistic legal and psycho-social services and to an effective justice system that respects their dignity.” LvA’s new community-based Legal Service Centre is a powerful step towards the realization of that vision and towards a brighter future for South Africa.

The client waiting area
The client waiting area
Private room for legal consults
Private room for legal consults
Aerial view of the Centre
Aerial view of the Centre
Private room for individual therapy
Private room for individual therapy
A dream realized
A dream realized

Links:

Aug 28, 2015

Finding a Voice

Sharing a story
Sharing a story

In Diepsloot, sexual and domestic violence is not only pervasive, but has become normalized both within the home and throughout the community. As such, many of LvA’s clients only come to us for assistance when the violence has escalated to a point that they are fearful for their lives and/or their children’s lives. Over the last year, LvA has learned that one of the possible reasons for this delay in reporting is that women often lack awareness of their rights or available legal remedies.

To address this problem, LvA developed a four-part workshop series to educate women about gender-based violence and how to be agents of change in their community. This workshop was piloted in April and May 2015 to 19 women between the ages of 18 and 32, many of who had been victims of violence themselves.

Over the course of the workshops, participants were surprised to learn about how many other women in their community also experienced violence. Prior to these workshops, many participants hadn’t really thought about the meaning or implications of violence in their lives and the workshops created a space for them to do so. One woman explained that she learned “if you are in a position of powerlessness, you don’t have to remain there. You can pick yourself up.” After learning about available legal remedies and services, several participants who had been victims of violence in the past approached LvA for legal assistance and/or psycho-social support.

In the last workshop of the series, women were encouraged to explore their own experiences with violence through art. The goal of this workshop was to teach the participants how to articulate their stories in a constructive and impactful manner as well as see the value in their individual and collective narratives. For many, this proved to be a highly emotional exercise. One participant explained, “It reminded us of the deep things we try to forget.” Another women noted, “it was hard, but it helped me a lot. I can put the pieces of me back together again.”

At the conclusion of the workshop series, the participants had built a strong bond with one another, especially after sharing and supporting each other through their emotional stories of violence. Some participants even agreed to continue meeting after seeing the benefits of talking with other women who had similar experiences, and a few participants were eager to lead future workshops for other women in Diepsloot.

Links:

 

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