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 first school workshop in Diepsloot
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's school workshop in Diepsloot
LvA's school workshop in Diepsloot

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LvA's Diepsloot Legal Services Centre
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

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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.

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LvA has assisted 95 clients in Diepsloot
LvA has assisted 95 clients in Diepsloot

Sharon* came to Lawyers against Abuse’s (LVA) office in Diepsloot in early 2015. Like many of LvA’s clients, Sharon had heard about LvA’s work to seek justice for women in her community who were victims of gender-based violence (GBV).

Sharon has two little boys, aged 10 and 5.  One evening, Sharon’s ex-boyfriend followed her boys home and demanded to speak to their mother.  Sharon asked him to leave but, as she turned to go back into the house, he hit her over the head with a brick and dragged her to his home, threatening to kill her. Sharon’s 10-year-old, aware of this man’s violent tendencies, grabbed his little brother, locked up the house and ran to the police station to get help for his mother. When the police arrived with her two boys, Sharon had already been beaten so badly she could barely walk.  The police escorted her home and the following day she opened a criminal case of assault. A few days later, however, Sharon returned to the police station to withdraw the case.  This was the fourth time Sharon had opened and then closed an assault case against her ex-boyfriend. This is a common pattern with victims of domestic violence who are either financially dependent on their abusive partners or find it difficult to leave because of the cycle of violence.

Fortunately, because of LvA’s relationship with the police, an officer referred Sharon to LvA for assistance. LvA explained the process for obtaining a protection order, assisted with the application, accompanied Sharon to her final hearing and successfully obtained a final protection order against her ex-boyfriend. Additionally, with LvA’s support, Sharon has decided to re-open her criminal case of assault. LvA has been following up with the police to ensure that Sharon’s criminal case is appropriately investigated and taken to trial. Sharon has also begun therapy with LvA’s psychologist, a process that will help her heal and hopefully empower her to take active steps to regain control over her life. Since receiving a final protection order, Sharon’s ex-boyfriend has made no attempt to harm her or her children. 

*Client's name and certain details have been changed to protect her identity.

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Diepsloot
Diepsloot

Over 500,000 people are crowded into the 5 square kilometer settlement of Diepsloot on the northern edge of Johannesburg. In this mainly black African community, unemployment rates are nearly 50% and poverty and dismal living conditions are the norm. The community has no courts and only one temporary police station. Building on the permanent police station began in 2008 and continues today, despite the fact that Diepsloot is one of the most dangerous areas in South Africa. In 2012-2013, at least one case of violent assault was reported every day, amounting to 595 reported cases that year alone.

In a community that struggles to receive even basic services, legal services are non-existent. To address the gap in direct legal services, Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) began working in Diepsloot twice a week in July 2014. LvA has taken on 8 clients in need of protection orders and is in the midst of a rapid needs assessment of the community to determine what other legal services are in greatest demand. Already, we have identified the critical need to engage more rigorously with the clerks and magistrates of the nearest court that is over 30 kilometers away, where women’s applications for protection orders are often refused simply due to misunderstandings in the law.

Given the complex nature of gender-based violence, it is clear to us that direct legal services are not enough. LvA has partnered with RedPeg, an NGO dedicated to strategic HIV/AIDS intervention, to conduct 5-day workshops for police officers on the Sexual Offences Act and its implementation. LvA is also working to expand its reach and impact by building a community centre that is a safe-space for women in Diepsloot. An architect with expertise in designing female-friendly spaces in an urban setting will be designing our centre. By providing women with a safe haven in their community, we aim to help them heal, grow, and thrive.

LvA’s work in Diepsloot is just the beginning. Our goal is to engage with a range of state actors both within and outside the community. By engaging police, hospital personnel, magistrates, and prosecutors, LvA seeks to educate and gain their support in the important fight against gender-based violence in South Africa.

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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
$44,401 raised of $75,000 goal
 
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