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

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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Through our work, we have the privilege of working with some exceptional women. Women who have overcome extraordinary challenges. Women who have acted boldly to stand up against their abusers. Women who have taken steps, both small and large, to improve their lives and the lives of her children. In honour of International Women’s Day, we would like to take a moment to celebrate two of these extraordinary women.

Kuhle* was referred to LvA for counselling in connection with an ongoing abusive relationship.  When she first started meeting with LvA’s social worker, she struggled to express herself during her sessions. However, through these sessions, she became more confident when expressing her feelings and was able to understand and articulate the origins of her trauma. In addition, the client was empowered to leave her abusive partner and thereby, restore a safe environment for herself and her children. By the end of her sessions, the client appeared to be in a positive space and was thriving in her newly secured independence and freedom from her abusive partner.

Sophie* was abused by her boyfriend and would occasionally even have to miss work due to the severity of the abuse. She was referred to LvA for assistance. Sophie began meeting with LvA’s social worker for individual counselling sessions and initially presented feelings of fear, shame and guilt. Through these sessions, LvA’s social worker helped Sophie to understand the nature and impacts of trauma which helped to normalise the reactions and emotions she experienced. This understanding helped Sophie regain a sense of control over her life. 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. At the same time, she decided to stand up against her abuser and secured a protection order against him with the assistance of LvA’s legal team.

Today, we celebrate their courage.

We celebrate their resilience.

We celebrate their strength. 

And we are honoured to have played a small part in their story. 

 

*Names changed to protect client confidentiality.

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Participants in workshop
Participants in workshop

In July 2020, LvA launched a new 12-month project funded by the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF). The objectives of the project are two-fold: to increase the capacity of young women to understand and challenge the structural drivers of GBV and to shape community attitudes on GBV; and to mobilise community members to take action against GBV.Under the project, LvA is facilitating quarterly workshop series for women aged 18 – 35. These workshops explore concepts of power, patriarchy, misogyny and gender norms and stereotypes and interrogate their respective roles in the perpetration of gender-based violence. They also look at available legal rights and legal remedies in cases of intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence. Lastly, they participate in a reflexive journey where participants are invited to map their lives events, reflecting on key moments and sources of strength (whether internal or external).

Following the completion of these workshop series, graduates are invited to form a Community Action Group (CAG). These CAGs are then further capacitated to take a stand against gender-based violence in their own community. CAG members receive training on key principals, tools, and techniques of community mobilisation and then plan and implement their own community activation event designed to raise awareness about gender-based violence in their community.

To date, LvA has facilitated workshop series for two groups of women. During these workshops, the participants were able to speak from personal experience about the abuse they had experienced in their own live and the ways in which patriarchy and harmful gender norms and stereotypes oppress women in their community and suppress their voice. They further noted how women are more vulnerable to abuse due to economic dependence on their abusive partners. Throughout the workshops, participants were eager to learn so that they could help other women in the community. Following each of these workshop series, each set of graduates formed a CAG. These groups then met weekly for the additional capacitation as discussed above.

The groups are currently planning two community activations to take place during the upcoming 16 days of Activism against Violence against Women and Children, taking place between 25 November and 10 December. The first activation will be at a mall in the community where the CAG, in partnership with local police and other state actors, will set up stands where they can engage community members about GBV and available support services. The second planned activation will be a door to door campaign where group members will go into the community in order to engage community members on an individual basis to raise awareness about GBV and available support services. LvA is encouraged to see project beneficiaries take ownership over these events and to witness their determination and dedication to addressing GBV in their community.

Participants engage with Journey of Life exercise
Participants engage with Journey of Life exercise
LvA facilitator details mobilization principles
LvA facilitator details mobilization principles
Participants break out in small groups
Participants break out in small groups

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In light of anticipated increases in levels of gender-based violence (GBV) in connection with COVID-19 related restrictions and the corresponding lack of GBV services and ability of victims to access those services, LvA launched a large scale door to door awareness campaign to increase community awareness of rights, legal remedies and available services in cases of GBV

Prior to beginning the campaign, LvA facilitated training for 22 volunteers on GBV including types of violence, available legal remedies and support services for victims and COVID-19 including transmission, prevention, and procedures to follow when conducting outreach to ensure the safety of all volunteers and community members.

In June, LvA staff and volunteers began conducting two door to door campaigns per week. During each campaign, volunteers split into pairs for safety reasons and systematically engaged community members on a single street, either in their homes, shops, stalls or on the street, before moving to the next street. When engaging with community members, volunteers introduce the purpose of the campaign and share information regarding COVID-19, GBV, legal rights, remedies and available support services. Volunteers also engaged community members regarding the lack of post-rape medical care in the community and invite community members to sign the petition for these services. Lastly, Volunteers answered any questions and distributed printed materials with relevant information and contact details. At the end of each day, volunteers debriefed with LvA staff regarding any challenges encountered that day or any new questions which emerged.

To date, they have reached 4,780 community members throughout Diepsloot with information about their rights, legal remedies and available support services in cases of GBV and COVID-19.

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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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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
$47,480 raised of $75,000 goal
 
559 donations
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