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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

On Sunday, 15 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. As we are aware, LvA’s beneficiaries are women who have been or are at risk of becoming victims of GBV. In our context, these victims are mostly black women and girls and may include women with disabilities, lesbian and bisexual women, transgender and intersex people and HIV-positive women. A large portion of our clients are also unemployed and are marginalised not only for their race and gender, but also for their socio-economic status. For people in the “high-risk” groups, those with chronic diseases, compromised immune systems, or the elderly, the COVID-19 virus will be deadly. Diepsloot is located approximately 40km from the Johannesburg city centre and financial hub, and it deeply lacks public infrastructure, including critical municipal services.  Both staff members and clients make daily use of public transport.  We know that the simplest way to protect ourselves and others from coronavirus is to limit contact. In order to safeguard the health of our clients, staff members and the larger Diepsloot community LvA will be closing the Diepsloot centre for the next few weeks.

For some of the women that we serve, the outside world is often safer than their own homes.  At its core, abuse is about power and control. When victims/survivors are forced to stay in the home with their abusers they may are vulnerable to further abuse. LvA recognises that social distancing and isolation may lead to an increase in incidents of gender-based violence and have put in measures to ensure that staff has been provided with the resources to work remotely whilst continuing to serve our clients. We will also be working closely with the Diepsloot GBV Forum to ensure that state actors are attentive to the risks towards women and children amid this outbreak.

LvA prides itself in its reflexivity and staff will be using this time to review their program areas to improve on how our mandate is carried out. In the interim, here are a few highlights from 2019 :

Direct Legal Services:

Provided direct legal services to 253 clients including comprehensive criminal case support for 127 clients, protection order assistance for 88 clients and legal advice for 61 clients.

16 perpetrators were convicted of attempted murder, rape, statutory rape, assault and contravention of a protection order, receiving heavy sentences for their actions including three life sentences, a 15-year sentence, two 12-year sentences and two 10-year sentences.

77% of clients who completed the process received final protection orders.  

Psychosocial Support:

Provided 138 clients with received psychosocial support including:

790 individual therapy sessions to 114 clients

130 sessions to 22 primary caregivers of minor clients which focused on psychoeducation, self-care and parenting skills

Group therapy to 24 clients in four groups: clients aged 12-14; clients aged 15 – 18; minors living with cognitive disabilities; and primary caregivers of minor clients

Facilitated four psychoeducational workshops for 18 caregivers of minor clients on understanding trauma and providing support for their children.

Witnessed as many clients rediscovered a sense of hope, confidence, trust, perseverance and self-esteem during their sessions.

State Actor Engagement:

Strengthened partnerships with local state actors including police, prosecutors, magistrates, healthcare officials, and social development via continuous and strategic engagement.

Created accountability in individual instances of misconduct at every level.

Built capacity through ongoing workshops - three workshops for the specialised Family Violence, Child Abuse and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit and eight workshops for the Diepsloot Community Policing Forum (CPF) GBV Taskforce.

Continued to lead initiatives under the Diepsloot GBV Forum including advocacy around the lack of post-rape medical care, an anti-rape March to raise awareness around high levels of sexual violence and a Community Dialogue during the 16 Days of Activism.

Community Engagement:

Engaged 16,560 community members through 73 talks at two local government clinics, a monthly segment on a local community radio station, and talks at various stakeholder events.

Facilitated six workshops for community members with 20 to 67 participants per workshop.

Conducted a 12-month project in two Diepsloot primary schools to: 1) increase school capacity to more effectively prevent and respond to sexual violence; 2) increase accountability in cases of sexual violence in schools; and 3) cultivate an environment conducive to learners reporting instances of sexual violence in school or elsewhere. 

Despite ongoing challenges and obstacles, we press on, inspired by the words of one of our clients who had experienced domestic violence for over 15 years before approaching LvA for assistance. When reflecting on her journey with LvA, she stated:

“Challenges are still there… But I’m strong now to face my challenges without any fear. I am bold, strong, courageous, stable and grounded. Nothing and no one will stand in my way of reaching my destiny or goal… I am a changed person.”

With your support, we look forward to expanding our impact in 2020, reaching even more victims and ensuring that the justice system provides and effective and efficient response in all cases of GBV.

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In 2019, LvA made tremendous strides in advancing its mission to provide integrated legal and psychosocial support services to victims of gender-based violence (GBV) and to facilitate systemic change through strategic engagement with state actors and the communities in which we serve.

LvA provided critical legal and/or psychosocial support to 307 GBV victims, with 85 clients receiving both legal and psychosocial support. LvA supported 200 new clients who first came to LvA in 2019, including 17 family members of clients, while the remaining 107 are clients who came to LvA in previous years that continued receiving support in 2019. This reflects the long-term support that LvA provides to its clients.

See below for a brief summary of activities and outcomes achieved under each programme in 2019:

Direct Legal Services: LvA provided direct legal services to 253 clients. Specifically, LvA provided protection order assistance to 88 clients, comprehensive criminal case support to 128 clients, and legal advice only to 61 clients. Note that 23 clients received more than one form of legal assistance. For clients receiving protection order assistance, 100% of clients who submitted their application to court received interim protection orders and 77% of clients who attended their final hearing received final protection orders. In criminal cases supported by LvA, 16 perpetrators pled guilty / were convicted of various charges including attempted murder, rape, statutory rape, assault and contravention of a protection order, receiving heavy sentences for their actions including three life sentences, a 15-year sentence, two 12-year sentences and two 10-year sentences.  

Psychosocial Support: LvA provided psychosocial support to 138 clients, with 23 clients receiving both individual and group therapy. Specifically, LvA provided 790 individual therapy sessions to 114 clients and 130 sessions to 22 primary caregivers of minor clients which focused on psychoeducation, self-care and parenting skills. LvA also provided group therapy to 24 clients divided into the following four groups: adolescent clients aged 12-14 who had experienced sexual violence; minors aged 15 – 18 years old; minors living with cognitive disabilities; and primary caregivers of minor clients. Many psychosocial support clients experienced significant shifts during therapy and counselling, rediscovering a sense of hope, confidence, trust, perseverance and self-esteem during their sessions. LvA also facilitated four psychoeducational workshops for 18 caregivers on understanding trauma for primary caregivers in 2019. Lastly, LvA provided group therapy and psychoeducational workshops to an additional 70 community members in partnership with another Diepsloot service provider.

State Actor Engagement: Throughout the year, LvA worked to strengthen partnerships with local state actors including police, prosecutors, magistrates, healthcare officials, and social development via continuous and strategic engagement. LvA also worked to create accountability in individual instances of misconduct at every level and to build capacity through ongoing workshops. In 2019, LvA provided three workshops for the specialised Family Violence, Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Unit and eight workshops for the Diepsloot Community Policing Forum GBV Taskforce. LvA also continued to lead initiatives under the Diepsloot GBV Forum, working with both state and non-state actors. The Forum focused on the following initiatives in 2019: ongoing advocacy around the lack of post-rape medical care in Diepsloot, an anti-rape March to raise awareness around high levels of sexual violence in Diepsloot and a Community Dialogue during the 16 Days of Activism.

Community Engagement: In 2019, LvA educated approximately 16,560 community members through 73 talks at two local government clinics, a monthly segment on a local community radio station, and talks at various stakeholder events throughout Diepsloot. LvA also conducted six workshops for community members in partnership with another Diepsloot service provider, with number of participants per workshop ranging from 20 to 67. Workshops focused on GBV, gender roles, power dynamics and processes and procedures for protection orders and criminal cases. Lastly, LvA conducted a 12-month project focusing on addressing sexual violence in two primary schools in Diepsloot. Under this project, LvA worked to: 1) increase each school’s capacity to more effectively prevent and respond to sexual violence; 2) increase accountability in cases of sexual violence in schools; and 3) cultivate an environment conducive to learners reporting instances of sexual violence in school or elsewhere.

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50-year-old Thembi* came to LvA in April 2018 for help after her estranged husband, George*, doused their shack with paraffin and set it alight, with Thembi and her children trapped inside. This was not the first time George had done this. Throughout their 28-year marriage, George would become physically violent and then try to set the house alight using paraffin. In fact, George was out on bail for a different criminal offence when this incident took place. LvA accompanied Thembi to the police station and reported the incident to the detective branch commander who assisted in taking Thembi’s statement and effecting arrest.

Over the following months, Thembi faced tremendous pressure from George’s family to resolve the matter within the family. At the time, Thembi’s daughter was in the process of initiating her customary marriage. For the marriage to proceed, members of George’s family would need to engage in lobola negotiations with the groom’s family. George’s family informed Thembi that they refused to participate in negotiations unless she withdrew her criminal case against George and apologised to him for “airing the family’s dirty laundry in public.”All these incidents triggered Thembi’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which she had developed as a result of years of ongoing abuse.

When Thembi first came to LvA, she had lost all hope and believed her life would not have any positive outcomes. She was unable to go to work due to illness and was prescribed 16 tablets daily to cope. Thembi’s criminal case against George was also taking strain on her health as the justice system repeatedly failed her. The investigating officer assigned to the case repeatedly told LvA that the docket was “lost.” Unsurprisingly, the docket was “found” shortly after LvA reported the matter to the detective branch commander, however, critical evidence was missing from the docket. At that point, Thembi expressed that she did not have the strength to fight for justice because everyone just hurt and betrayed her. She decided to take unpaid leave from work to give therapy a chance. LvA’s drama therapist formulated a treatment plan for Thembi to find ways to cope in her challenges and began seeing her several times per week. Drama Therapy was applied by using movement therapy premised on Mindfulness Philosophy. Through this practice, Thembi was given an opportunity to accept things in her life that she could not change and focus on things that she could change.

At the same time, LvA’s legal team continued to support her throughout her criminal case. When the matter was finally placed on the court roll, the prosecutor assigned to the case pressured Thembi to mediate saying that there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal charge. The prosecutor stated that the only possible criminal charge would be ‘malicious damage to property,’ however, because Thembi and George were married in community of property, George was effectively destroying his own property when he set it alight. LvA argued that the charge should be ‘attempted murder’ because George made sure to trap Thembi and her children inside the shack before setting it on fire. When the prosecutor refused to budge, LvA reported the matter to the Senior Public Prosecutor (SPP) who, upon review of the evidence, agreed with LvA and changed the charge from malicious damage to property to attempted murder. Further, the SPP removed the prosecutor from the case and agreed to try the matter himself. In addition, due to LvA’s repeated follow-up, the detective branch commander personally apologised to Thembi for the investigating officer’s poor handling of her case and ensured that the missing evidence was added to the docket including a new statement from Thembi which reflects the full account of the incident. Thembi’s case then proceeded to trial, which would have never happened without LvA’s repeated interventions at every level of the justice system.  

After months of therapy, Thembi’s personal wellbeing has also had a positive shift. She has been able to stop taking prescribed medication for her psychosomatic reactions due to stress and has appeared to have rediscovered a sense of hope and optimism in her life. When her therapist noted these changes, Thembi shared that she had rediscovered herself after having lost herself in her marriage to George. While Thembi initially did not see divorce as an option, she recently shared that she plans to file for divorce and feels confident that she will be able to deal with any corresponding challenges. Thembi appears to no longer believe that she is destined to suffer and is looking forward going back to work and rebuilding her life and hopes to find a good partner who will not hurt her. When reflecting on her own journey, Thembi shared “The challenges are still there... But I am strong now to face my challenges without any fear. I am bold, strong, courageous, stable and grounded. Nothing and no one will stand on my way of reaching my destiny or goal… I am ready to face the world. The hatred is gone… Now, I am full of love, happiness, and cooperation. I am a changed person.” 

Thembi’s story demonstrates the power of LvA’s integrated approach. Through LvA’s legal and psychosocial support, Thembi was empowered to become the author of her own narrative in holding George accountable for his actions and finding the courage to rebuild a life free from abuse. Once hopeless, Thembi now feels that her story can give hope to other victims of gender-based violence.

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“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”

Such was the sentiment hanging in the air when the Diepsloot Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Forum launched in 2018. Both state and non-state actors working side by side, deeply committed to ensuring a coordinated approach to reducing levels of GBV in Diepsloot, and, to improve welfare, health and justice services provision in the community. One of the key focus areas for the GBV Forum is to raise awareness in the community.

To accomplish that objective, the Forum planned an Anti-Rape March to take place on 31 May 2019. The intention was to ensure that the message was spread far and wide through the use of various channels to communicate our message. One such mobilisation strategy was a door-to-door campaign where over 100 service providers armed with informative leaflets contended with some problematic attitudes from the community, including men who argued that “GBV is an unsolvable problem and no amount of awareness raising can stop rape” and that “only children can be raped, the rest are attention seekers.

The women community members spoken to expressed anger and mistrust towards the criminal justice system saying that reporting cases is pointless since they “don’t go anywhere.” The sense that the criminal justice system fails to hold rapists accountable seemed prevalent amongst residents. Undeterred by this backlash, the campaigners continued to engage community members and extend an invitation to participate in the planned Anti-Rape March.

In addition to the door-to-door campaign, print and broadcast media were also used to disseminate information. For example, LvA utilised Sloot.FM, a local community radio station, to educate community members on GBV issues and to shape and inform public discussions leading up to the March. Written media was also engaged with local newspapers such as Diepsloot’s Township News, Fourways Review and Midrand Reporter, as well as Daily Sun, which is South Africa’s biggest daily newspaper, reporting on the March.

Fortified with pamphlets, banners, loud hailer and singing voices, the campaigners convened for the March on 31 May 2019 at the taxi rank in Diepsloot, Extension 1. Accompanied by police vans and drill officers, we marched through the streets of Diepsloot to the Mashamplan informal settlement, with scores of community members joining along the way. The Mashamplan informal settlement was intentionally selected to serve as the ending point for the March as it has one of the highest percentages of reported rape cases in Diepsloot according to Diepsloot Police. At this site, GBV Forum Members addressed community members in attendance, sharing information about services provided and answering any questions that arose. Most importantly, this event showed solidarity with survivors of sexual violence by reminding them that they are not alone. GBV in all its forms is a solvable problem and together we can eradicate it.

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In April 2017, Mantwa* went out with her friends for a drink. After her friends had left, she was approached by her ex-boyfriend, Joshua*, who then forced her back to her shack in the early hours of the morning. Once outside, he began to beat her so she would open the door. When she refused, he broke all the nearby exterior lights to gain the cover of darkness and continued his brutal attack on Mantwa, including raping her. The attack went on for several hours and, despite her screams, no one came to Mantwa’s aid. One of Mantwa’s neighbours called the police and when they eventually arrived, Joshua escaped.

Mantwa went to the police station to open a case and was then taken for medical assistance where she was referred to LvA for further support. Fortunately, the police were able to find and arrest Joshua that same day. LvA immediately began providing Mantwa with critical legal and psychosocial support, beginning what would become a 22-month journey to justice.

In the months that followed, LvA engaged with the investigating officer assigned to Mantwa’s case to ensure that it moved forward and did not fall through the cracks and provided Mantwa with ongoing trauma debriefing and counselling. LvA also learned that Mantwa had been fired as a result of needing to take time off for her follow-up medical appointments as her employer did not believe that she had been raped. LvA immediately contacted Werksmans Pro Bono Diepsloot Legal Clinic who agreed to assist Mantwa in bringing a case against her former employer at the CCMA, which was ultimately successful.

Mantwa’s case went to trial in October 2017. And, despite strong DNA evidence linking Joshua to the crime, the trial dragged on for over 16 months. This was, in large part, due to extensive delay tactics used by Joshua and his defence attorney in an attempt to frustrate and discourage Mantwa from pursuing the case, including requiring a highly specialised interpreter. Joshua was no stranger to the criminal justice system. He was a known serial rapist and gang member, having raped at least four other women in Diepsloot, including two women that Mantwa knew personally – one of which had committed suicide following the rape and the other had left Diepsloot altogether. Throughout the trial proceedings, Joshua continued to threaten Mantwa and the other witnesses to drop the case through members of his gang. A group of women from the community even went to Mantwa’s house to pressure her to drop the case, but she persevered.

At each trial hearing, the court room would be filled with Joshua’s family and friends. Each time Joshua was brought in, he would turn around and stare menacingly at Mantwa to further intimidate her. LvA’s Sr. Staff Attorney attended each hearing with Mantwa so she would not be alone, nine in total. In a show of support, several of Mantwa’s friends and other LvA staff members and volunteers also attended some of the hearings. As one can imagine, each hearing was emotionally draining for Mantwa and her friends (who were also witnesses in the case) due to Joshua’s extremely violent nature and, consequently, the personal risk for their continued involvement in this case. In fact, after completing their testimony, Mantwa and several witnesses relocated to another province out of fear for their safety if they remained in Diepsloot.

In June 2018, Mantwa took the stand and bravely told her story to the magistrate. Throughout her testimony, Joshua was so brazen that he would laugh out loud in court, to the point where the magistrate had to reprimand him for his behaviour. But Mantwa never wavered. In addition to drawing on her own strength, Mantwa had formed a strong relationship with LvA’s Sr. Social Worker who had provided ongoing counselling and court preparation and debriefing throughout the process. Through these sessions, Mantwa had an opportunity to process her initial trauma, prepare for the secondary trauma experienced during her trial hearings and foster the resilience and strength necessary to not only see her case through, but to begin to move forward with her life.

After another nine months of hearings and further delay tactics, Joshua was convicted in February 2019 and sentenced to life imprisonment. This result would not have been possible without the extraordinary strength, courage and determination shown by Mantwa and her friends who risked their own safety to fight for justice. When reflecting on her case, Mantwa expressed “I am so thankful to those who fought so hard for me” (referring to the support she received from LvA as well as the excellent work done by the State prosecutor in this case). And now, a man who thought he was untouchable, will remain behind bars, thus ending his reign of terror on women in the Diepsloot community.

*Note that names have been changed to protect the client’s confidentiality.

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Organization Information

Lawyers Against Abuse

Location: Braamfontein, Gauteng - South Africa
Website:
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Project Leader:
Lindsay Henson
Diepsloot, Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa
$34,815 raised of $35,000 goal
 
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