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

LvA’s work follows a two-pronged approach: PREVENTION and RESPONSE. In addition to providing integrated legal and psychosocial support services to victims when violence does happen, we seek to empower women and girls in Diepsloot, providing them with the tools to challenge the conditions that lead to the existence of violence in the first place. Through our community engagement programme, dedicated LvA team members work tirelessly to reach far and wide into the Diepsloot community through clinic talks, local radio programming, school workshops, community workshops, and other outreach events. In doing so, we seek to educate and empower young women, learners, teachers and community members at large to catalyse change around gender-based violence (GBV).

One such initiative is LvA’s Community Action Group, which launched in 2017. Action Group members are graduates of LvA’s GBV Workshop Series who want to utilise the information gained through the series to mobilise change in their community around GBV. LvA provides Action Group members with further training and skills development around community mobilization, activism, and project planning. While the Action Group is capacitated and supported by LvA, the Group is self-led and determines the shape and content of its advocacy strategies and outreach campaigns. In 2017, the Action Groups held an outreach event at the community mall to raise awareness of violence against members of the LGBTI community, conducted a door-to-door campaign to raise awareness around GBV and LvA’s services, and executed a community dialogue which took place during the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women and Children attended by over 200 community members and other stakeholders.

On 31 May, the Action Group held a March and Community Dialogue to raise awareness of high levels of femicide and abuse of women and children in the community. The event began with a march that wound along and through the streets of Diepsloot. Once inside the community, the group was joined by the marching band of the local metropolitan police department who then led the way, attracting a lot of attention and gathering additional community members along the way. The march ended at a local church where LvA and other stakeholders addressed the community members, sharing information about services provided and answering any questions that arose. This led to a robust conversation with those in attendance on issues around GBV and poor service delivery in the community. Upon reflection after the event, group members shared how participating in the Action Group gave them the understanding, skills, and confidence to speak out against issues that were affecting them and the violence that has become so normalised in their community. 

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“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Eradicating gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa is no small feat.  Helping each victim of women and child abuse and addressing existing systemic gaps is a massive undertaking.  Try as we might, LvA cannot do it alone. Neither can our partners, which is why the Diepsloot GBV Forum was founded. 

The Forum brings together key state actors such as the police, Department of Social Development, Department of Health, and the Diepsloot Community Policing Forum (CPF), as well as civil society members engaged in the fight against GBV in Diepsloot including Afrika Tikkun, Childline, Green Door, NCVT, Sonke Gender Justice, the Teddy Bear Clinic, and many more, to develop strategies to combat GBV in Diepsloot and to address the systemic and structural gaps that exist. The Forum offers stakeholders an opportunity to share challenges they are facing and for each member to benefit from the experiences and expertise of others.  

In late March, the Forum hosted its first meeting in an effort to identify the key issues contributing to high GBV prevalence rates in Diepsloot and challenges facing both victims and stakeholders. The meeting brought meaningful discussion and concrete ideas to address the unique challenges we all face in Diepsloot.  Among the issues discussed were lack of post-rape medical care, absence of shelters within the community and the need for ongoing training of CPF members.  For each problem presented, an equally creative strategy was developed - all of which LvA and our fellow Forum members will begin implementing before the Forum reconvenes next quarter.  

We are excited to see the real change that this Forum can bring. There is strength in numbers and we are certain that the collective passion and expertise of these stakeholders will make a meaningful difference in the lives of women and children in Diepsloot. 

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For many of the clients who come to LvA, therapy is the beginning of the work – not simply a quick fix or a happy ending.  It is an opportunity to reclaim strength and one’s sense self-worth necessary to successfully journey through the emotional ups and downs that undoubtedly lie ahead.  While many clients obtain the necessary tools for their journey after a few sessions, others may require a “refresher” along the way.  For those, LvA’s doors are always open.

Client Story: Breaking the Cycle of Violence 

Malefu lost her parents at a young age and was cared for her by her older brother.  Soon after becoming her sole caretaker, her brother began to physically and sexually abuse her.  In fear for her life, she ran away to a neighboring town and met a young man who she became involved with.  This new partner provided shelter and security for Malefu and she finally felt safe in an intimate relationship with a man.  She soon got pregnant, but realized she did not truly love her partner and returned home.  Upon returning, her brother began to beat her again.  Once again, she ran away – this time to Johannesburg. Though her location changed, her situation did not.  She moved in with a man who soon began to physically and sexually abuse her.  Determined to make a change and break the vicious cycle that dictated her life, she sought help from the police and was referred to LvA in 2015.  She worked with the staff therapist and legal team to begin her journey to healing and self-empowerment.  During this time, she confronted the terrible physical, sexual and emotional abuse she had endured throughout her lifetime.  With the support of LvA, she made tremendous strides. 

Two years later, she was back at LvA’s doors.  Upon returning to LvA, she again met with LvA’s therapist and shared how she felt worthless, and even suicidal.  She revealed that after a series of disappointing personal setbacks, including losing her job, she realized that she had never been truly happy in her life.  She felt her past traumas had controlled the choices she made in relationships – how she got involved with men solely for survival rather than love.

Although her life felt unbearable, Malefu had chosen to return to LvA to continue the work she had started two years prior, rather than finding a new man and continuing on in that cycle that had controlled so much of her past.  The tools she received during her initial time with LvA allowed her to come back and make a different choice – one that empowered her rather than tore her down. 

Through her ongoing therapy with LvA, she reclaimed the strength she had lost.  She continues to come regularly for counseling and is thriving in her journey.  Today, she is working a temporary job and is determined to get full-time employment.  She is saving her money to go back to school and has made a decision to invest in herself rather than a partner. 

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A key aspect of LvA's integrated services model is the inclusion of psychosocial support services for our clients in conjunction with the direct legal services we provide. Since 2016, LvA has partnered with the Drama for Life Programme at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Through this partnership, LvA has the opportunity to work with drama therapist students as they complete their Masters degree. Over the past two years, LvA has seen the effectiveness of using drama therapeutic techniques, especially with our younger clients. Here is a story of how one client was able to work through, and ultimately overcome, the shame and fear that she was feeling through drama therapy.

Client Story: From Victim to Superhero

While Tsipho* was a victim of sexual violence herself, it was her younger sister’s abuse that brought her to LvA. Tsipho’s six-year old sister, Kerabo*, had confided in her about the sexual abuse she had experienced and Tsipho was going to testify on her behalf at the upcoming trial. Tsipho began meeting with LvA’s drama therapist, Bandile, to prepare for the trial.

When Tsipho came to LvA she was plagued with anxiety, guilt and shame. Recognizing this, Bandile thought movement work would help her release some of the physical anxiety she was harboring. Upon suggesting this approach, Tsipho responded, “But I can’t dance.” Bandile asked her to trust him in the space and assured her that if she was uncomfortable they could stop immediately and try an alternative approach.

Using a technique called Labans Work, Bandile guided Tsipho through a series of movements that allowed her to channel and release the tension that was stunting her. After the exercise, they sat to reflect on the experience. During reflection, Tsipho was finally at ease and ready to open up about the true source of her anxiety.

For years, Tsipho had hidden that she too had been sexually abused by the same man who had later abused her sister. Tsipho had never told anyone about the abuse, as she was afraid that no one would believe her. So she hid it. Realizing that her secret may have contributed to her sister’s abuse she was overcome with guilt and shame.

Working with Bandile allowed her to finally confront her past. By creating a safe and trusting space in drama therapy, Bandile was able to help her start working through the inadequacy and shame she felt through role-play. In role-play, she expressed the desire to be a superhero that protected women and children from abuse in Diepsloot. Bandile was delighted by her request to play a superhero as it demonstrated her desire to overcome her feelings of inadequacy. It also showed that even in their short time together, Tsipho was already beginning to make a profound transformation. He was assured of this when he asked her, “As this superhero, what would you tell the women of Diepsloot?” She simply responded, “You will always find someone to trust your story.”

*Client names have been changed to protect their identity.

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In July 2017, Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) partnered with non-profit organisation Afrika Tikkun to conduct a four-day workshop series for a group of 49 Peer Educators, students of all ages coming from schools throughout Johannesburg. Note that peer education is a process whereby well-trained and motivated young people undertake informal or organized educational activities with their peers.The primary objective of the workshop series was to increase participants’ knowledge and abilities to facilitate sessions in relation to gender-based violence (GBV).

The first day of the series focused on the politics of violence, which was introduced using role plays. Through this, the peer educators explored the use of power in different relationships (e.g. parent/child, teacher/child, husband/wife), and how they may lead to exploitive and abusive circumstances. Participants also discussed power, patriarchy and misogyny as factors contributing to GBV. The second day focused on the psychology of violence. In this session, participants explored differences between gender, sex, sexuality, and sexuality orientation, and discussed the linkages of social expectations about sex, gender and sexual orientation to oppression.The third day focused on the justice system and was designed to empower participants with information about the civil and criminal legal remedies available to victims of GBV in South Africa. Participants were separated into four groups, and each group was given a case study relating to a situation of domestic violence. Each group presented their case study using role play techniques. The facilitators also led discussions around key definitions in the Sexual Offences Act (e.g. rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment) as well as concepts such as consent using various scenarios.

The final day of the series focused on a therapy-based body mapping activity called the Journey of Life. The purpose of this activity was to allow the participants to explore past life experiences, both good and bad, and how they impact their lives now. For this activity, participants were asked to lie down on sheets of poster paper. Facilitators then led participants through a guided meditation. The activity proved to be very powerful and emotional for all participants. Following the meditation, many of the participants shared difficult situations they had faced growing up including being exposed to violence, family breakdowns, neglect, suicide, and sexual abuse. Given the emotional intensity of this session, a further activity was used to help the peer educators think about their inner strengths. For this activity, the peer educators were asked to draw an outline of their body on the poster paper. Then, using different coloured crayons, participants were asked to identify their inner strengths and where they want to be in the future. This was a very empowering activity as it helped the participants realise that they are not victims of their own circumstances, and that their past bad experiences do not define who they are today.

By working with peer educators, LvA hopes to amplify the impact of the workshops series as the information shared will be transferred to others.

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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
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