Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA

by Lawyers Against Abuse
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA

A key component of LvA's model is to provide our clients, who are primarily women and children who have experienced some form of violence and/or abuse, with comprehensive and holistic support services. These services include legal services, including assisting with a protection order or providing support in a criminal case, and therapy and counseling. 

In Diepsloot, one of the communities where we work, LvA has provided direct legal services to 319 GBV victims and family members affected by GBV over the last two years. Specifically, LvA provided comprehensive support to 137 clients pursuing criminal cases of rape, statutory rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, assault, and child abuse, working closely with state actors in each case to ensure that GBV laws are enforced, and victims are treated with dignity and respect. LvA also assisted 124 clients seeking a protection order, including completing the application, advising on submission and service procedures, engaging with the police for service as needed, preparing the client for the final hearing, and following up regarding outcomes. 

In order to ensure that our client's mental health needs were met, LvA also provided therapy and counseling to 207 GBV victims. Specifically, LvA facilitated 1,310 individual therapy and counselling sessions with 165 clients, 45 family therapy sessions for five families in situations where the trauma was indirectly experienced by more than one family member, and 147 group therapy sessions for 78 participants divided into the following five groups: 7 - 11 years old, 12 – 14 years old, 15 - 18 years old, minors with cognitive impairments and adult GBV victims.

Through this strategic combination of legal and psychosocial support, LvA empowered 402 GBV victims to realise available legal rights and remedies as they pursued either a protection order and/or criminal case against their perpetrator. In addition, through LvA’s empowerment-based approach, we work with our clients in a way that encourages them to take ownership over their legal process and to exercise their agency as and when needed. For example, when assisting a client in obtaining a protection order, LvA's legal officers ensure that the client understands what to do if the order is violated (in addition to coming back to LvA for help). As such, we were encouraged when one of our clients reported to us that when her boyfriend continued to abuse her after being served an interim protection order, she reported the violation to the police station on her own, and her partner was arrested for violating the protection order.

Further, clients who received therapy or counselling services appear to have experienced significant shifts during their sessions. We have observed clients’ increased commitment to their counseling processes. For example, we had previously noticed a pattern where clients would stop coming for counselling once their legal needs have been met (e.g., once they have been granted a final protection order by the court). However, we now see increasing numbers of clients continue with their counselling process beyond the conclusion of their legal process. We have also seen an increase in the number of clients willing to leave their abusive partners for their own safety and that of their children.

This work would not be possible without the support of our generous donors. So thank you for your commitment to addressing gender-based violence in South Africa and ensuring that victims of violence have access to the support they need. 

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Founded in 2011, Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) is a non-profit organisation that works to strengthen the justice system’s response to gender-based violence (GBV) by providing holistic legal services and therapy for victims, working with state actors and empowering communities. Through our community-based centres in Diepsloot, Orange Farm and Hillbrow, we assist victims secure protection orders and pursue criminal cases of GBV and work closely with local police and court officials to ensure that victim’s rights are respected and that the justice system responds effectively and efficiently to these crimes. We also care for victim’s mental health needs through individual and group-based therapy and counseling and empower community members with information about their rights, legal remedies and available support services.

Over the last ten years, we have provided critical assistance to over 1,600 victims, each with their own unique story. For example,

Andiswa* was seven years old when she and her friend were attacked and raped by a “family friend” when walking home from public swimming pool. Over the next three years, LvA’s legal and psychosocial teams worked together to provide Andiswa with comprehensive support. Andiswa began receiving individual therapy in 2019 and, in 2021, also began participating in a group therapy with other children her age who had also experienced some form of sexual violence. At the same time, LvA’s legal team supported Andiswa and her family throughout the criminal case against the perpetrator, liaising with the investigating officer and prosecutor assigned to the case throughout the investigation and pre-trial stages and accompanying them for trial hearings. Although the trial was scheduled to begin in early 2020, the case suffered numerous postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When Andiswa was finally called to testify in March 2021, she surpassed everyone’s expectations as she was able to articulate her story clearly and bravely identify the man who raped her and her friend without wavering. Andiswa was later awarded a Certificate of Bravery by the National Prosecuting Authority for her testimony. In May 2021, the perpetrator was found guilty and received a 25-year sentence.

Sophie* was abused by her boyfriend and would occasionally have to miss work due to the severity of the abuse. When Sophie first began her counseling sessions, she was overwhelmed by feelings of fear, shame and guilt. LvA’s social worker helped her to understand the emotions she was experiences were a natural consequence of the trauma she had endured which, in turn, helped to normalise these reactions for Sophie. Over time, she demonstrated gradual improvements in her mental state including regaining an interest in her work, establishing regular sleeping patterns and implementing healthier coping strategies. Through these sessions, Sophie began to regain a sense of control over her life and decided to stand up against her abuser. Over the next several months, Sophie worked with LvA’s legal team to secure a protection order against her abusive partner.

After having been sexually abused by her step-father as a child and witnessing his ongoing physical abuse of her mother, 20-year-old Thembeka* worked with LvA’s therapist for over a year to regulate her anxiety and re-affirm her self-worth. After witnessing these positive changes, Thembeka’s mother, Mpumelelo*, agreed to come for counselling. Over the next five months, Mpumelelo worked with LvA’s social worker to explore the possibility of leaving her abusive partner, including developing a plan and identifying family members who could assist. Mpumelelo also agreed to work with LvA’s legal team and successfully secured a protection order against her abusive partner. Shortly thereafter, Mpumelelo bravely packed her and her children’s belongings and left her partner after 15 years of abuse. With their newfound freedom, Mpumelelo and Thembeka have both secured employment and are committed to continuing with their respective growth journeys.

*Names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of LvA’s clients.

With your support, LvA can provide critical assistance to hundreds of other women and girls in situations like Andiswa, Sophie, Thembeka and Mpumelelo. To learn more about our work, please visit our website at www.lva.org.za.

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Through LvA's work in Early Child Development (ECD) centres in Diepsloot, we have observed that, even from a young age, bullying and other forms of aggressive behaviour are informed by prescribed gender roles. For example, male learners were expected to be aggressive, while aggressive behaviour from female learners was discouraged and resulted in social exclusion. In order to reduce violence and other forms of agressive behaviour and to increase prosocial behaviour among ECD learners, LvA is currently implementing an intervention in ECD centres in Diepsloot that explores the intersections of bullying and gender. 

At each ECD, LvA’s drama therapist, assisted by a social auxiliary worker, will begin by observing ECD learners over a two-week period to assess learners’ needs and any specific challenges facing the ECD Centre. Following the observation period, LvA will conduct a series of eight workshops with smaller groups of ECD learners. As ECDs in Diepsloot have an average of 50 learners enrolled, learners will be divided into smaller groups with a maximum of six learners per group to allow for individualized attention to maximise impact.

During these workshops, learners are given an opportunity to interact with a persona doll with androgynous characteristics. Persona dolls, first introduced in South Africa in 2004, serve as an interactive tool that provides a non-threatening way for children to ‘unlearn’ prejudice, challenge discrimination and develop prosocial behaviours. Dolls help children express their feelings and ideas, think critically, challenge unfair treatment and develop empathy with people who are different to themselves. Further, the doll’s androgynous characteristics allow learners to engage critically with prescribed gender roles. Through ongoing engagements with the persona doll, learners are encouraged to foster empathy and other prosocial behaviour with the persona doll that may be practiced with their peers. Learners also engage in a process of cooperative play where they conceptualise and enact a community they wish to live in. Through this process, learners explore concepts of safety and treatment of different individuals based on characteristics such as gender, role, and relative positions of power. Ideally, learners are able to work together to complete this exercise without opting for aggressive behaviour. Further, learners have opportunities to challenge gender stereotypes through the assignment of roles within their created community.

Following the workshop series, LvA will meet with the ECD principal and other educators to evaluate the impact of the intervention, including any observed reductions in aggressive and/or violent behaviour towards other learners as well as any positive changes in learner behaviour. Through this intervention, learners are able to foster empathy and compassion for their peer, as well as positive expressions of gender identities. This, in turn, should lead to reduced levels of aggressive and/or violent behaviour and an increase in prosocial behaviours, thus preventing gender-based violence as a specific form of violent behaviour in the long-term.

In addition, recognising high rates of child abuse in Diepsloot, LvA will also facilitate psychoeducational workshop at each ECD to capacitate educators to identify and support learners who have experienced abuse. LvA will encourage educators to foster healthy working alliances with learners so that learners feel comfortable disclosing any abuse to an educator. In addition, educators will be trained on a drama exercise that can be used in the classroom to cultivate an environment where learners are able to express themselves freely. Lastly, LvA will establish systems whereby educators can report any confirmed or suspected cases of child abuse to LvA for further assistance.

To date, LvA has implemented the intervention in one ECD centre with 39 learners and plans to implement the intervention in two additional ECD centres in 2022. 

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Under our comprehensive and holistic approach, Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) recognises that violence is often inter-generational and seeks to provide support to others affected by the violence. Here is a story of one family, where a daughter's decision to seek help from LvA resulted in her family experiencing safety after 15 years of abuse.   

 

In early 2020, 20-year-old Thembeka* was referred to LvA for support. She had been sexually abused by her step-father as a child and had witnessed his ongoing physical abuse of her mother for over 15 years. As a result, she did not feel safe at home and experienced severe anxiety when in public spaces. While Thembeka’s mother was against her taking legal action against her step-father as he was the breadwinner in the home, she knew she had to speak to someone and started attending drama therapy sessions at LvA.

Over the next year, Thembeka worked with LvA’s drama therapist to process her trauma, regulate her anxiety, re-affirm her self-worth and gain confidence in expressing her needs. At the end of the year, Thembeka recited a poem she had written titled ‘Challenges of a Child Growing Up in Diepsloot’ at a holiday party for LvA’s clients and their families, including Thembeka’s mother, Mpumelelo*. Mpumelelo had an opportunity to meet LvA’s social worker at the holiday party and, having witnessed the positive changes in Thembeka over the previous year, agreed to receive counselling.    

Mpumelelo started attending counselling sessions in February 2021 and was committed to her personal growth. Her sessions focused both on strengthening her capacity as a mother and on the abuse she was experiencing at the hands of her partner. Over the next five months, Mpumelelo explored the possibility of leaving her abusive partner. She worked with LvA’s social worker to devise a plan, including identifying family members who could assist. Mpumelelo also agreed to work with LvA’s legal team to apply for a protection order and was granted a Final Protection Order against her partner. Shortly thereafter, Mpumelelo bravely packed her and her children’s belongings and left her abusive partner.

Because of Thembeka and Mpumelelo’s courageous actions, they are finally safe and feel truly happy for the first time in 15 years. With their newfound freedom, Mpumelelo and Thembeka have both secured employment and are now financially independent. Mpumelelo is committed to continuing her growth journey with LvA and strengthening her relationship with her daughter. Thembeka and Mpumelelo expressed their gratitude to LvA for always supporting them without any judgement.

*Names changed to protect client confidentiality. 

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Andiswa’s story began in early 2019 when she was just seven years old.

Statistics reveal that South Africa has some of the highest cases of GBV in the world, including high prevalence rates of violence against children. Most often, the perpetrators are known to the victims. In the case of Andiswa*, her story began in early 2019 when she was just seven years old. She and a friend were walking home from the public swimming pool when a man known to their family asked them to come over to him. Andiswa recalls that they refused, and that he ran after them into a secluded area where he raped both girls. The children immediately told their families of what happened to them and they reported it to the local police. The perpetrator was arrested shortly thereafter and Andiswa was referred to LvA by the Court Preparation Officer with whom LvA has a strong relationship.

During the initial consultation, Andiswa’s mother was resolute in her determination that the perpetrator be held to account for his actions and that LvA provide her daughter with every type of support available to help her cope with and recover from the trauma endured. LvA knows that this determination and caregiver support are crucial elements in every client’s long journey to justice and recovery.

Over the next two years, LvA’s legal and psychosocial teams worked closely together to provide Andiswa with comprehensive support. Andiswa began receiving individual therapy from LvA’s therapist in 2019 and, in early 2021, also began participating in a group therapy process with other children her age who had also experienced some form of sexual violence.

During her individual therapy sessions, Andiswa shared that she faced several challenges at home which increased her overall vulnerability, such as her mother’s chronic medical condition which resulted in Andiswa often having to care for herself from a young age. As a result, she struggled to express her needs at first because she had become accustomed to being self-reliant. In response, one of the therapy goals was to strengthen her ability to trust that other people would provide the support she needed. Over time, LvA witnessed a positive shift in Andiswa’s ability to trust others for support. For example, Andiswa felt comfortable to share that she and her mother were struggling to adhere to their medical treatment due to ongoing financial and food insecurity. LvA was able to work with health practitioners from a local clinic and social workers from the Department of Social Development to provide Andiswa and her mother with the necessary assistance. Through this process, Andiswa saw that her needs could be met and that she deserves to be safe.

At the same time, LvA’s legal team provided comprehensive support to Andiswa and her family in the criminal case against the perpetrator. Throughout the investigation and pre-trial stage, LvA’s legal officer liaised with the investigating officer and prosecutor assigned to the case and updated Andiswa’s mother on its progress. The trial was scheduled to begin in early 2020 when South Africa was hit with the global COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in ongoing postponements of most criminal cases for the remainder of the year. Despite these postponements, Andiswa and her mother’s commitment to pursuing justice remained strong, largely attributed to their consistency in accessing psychosocial support from LvA.

In late 2020, Andiswa’s case was transferred to another Sexual Offences prosecutor. This required her to complete a second pre-trial consultation with the new male prosecutor. Andiswa remained her energetic and outspoken self during the consultation and even shared her apprehensions with the prosecutor about testifying.

The day finally arrived for Andiswa to testify.

In March 2021, the day finally arrived for Andiswa to testify. While there was some nervousness, she was mentally and emotionally prepared thanks to the tools provided by LvA over the two-year period, and her recognition of court officials with whom she had engaged previously. Her testimony exceeded everyone’s expectations. She was able to articulate her story clearly and respond to the questions from the defence attorney without wavering. After completing her testimony, Andiswa confidently pointed out the man who had raped her and her friend two years ago. She later shared how seeing the perpetrator on the monitor had scared her, but she remembered that she was safe and that he could not get to her. The criminal trial is still proceeding.

LvA celebrates the strength, courage, and resilience that Andiswa has demonstrated over the last two years in her dual pursuits of seeking justice and personal healing. Andiswa was recently awarded with a Certificate of Bravery by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the completion of her testimony in the criminal case. But perhaps, most importantly, Andiswa shares that she now believes that safety is not a privilege but is a human right which belongs to every child including and especially her.

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Organization Information

Lawyers Against Abuse

Location: Braamfontein, Gauteng - South Africa
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @LvA_SouthAfrica
Project Leader:
Lindsay Henson
Diepsloot, Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa
$56,191 raised of $75,000 goal
 
658 donations
$18,809 to go
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