Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA

by Lawyers Against Abuse
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Flyer used to advertise VIMBA app
Flyer used to advertise VIMBA app

In the densely populated informal settlement of Diepsloot, levels of violence against women and girls are extremely high. New research released in late 2016 by Wits University under the Sonke-Wits CHANGE Project revealed that 56% of men in Diepsloot are estimated to have committed either physical or sexual violence, or both, against a woman in the past year. Of those, almost 60% admitted to committing multiple acts of violence. These perpetration levels are over twice the national average in South Africa. This data confirms what the team at Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) experiences to be true on a daily basis - that domestic violence and sexual violence is normalized and even routine within the Diepsloot community. The researchers also estimate that over 150,000 women in Diepsloot experience violence each year.

In response to these extremely high prevalence rates, Bhekisisa, a health journalism centre under the Mail & Guardian, a local South African newspaper, developed an app that would help connect victims of domestic violence and sexual violence to support services in Diepsloot. LvA, along with other service providers, worked closely with Bhekisisa’s project manager to develop the app in order to maximize its effectiveness and relevance within the Diepsloot community.  

The app, named VIMBA which means ‘to prevent, stop, or halt’ in isiZulu, connects victims with organisations within the community that can assist with shelter, legal assistance and counselling for free. Community members dial a toll-free number and, after answering a few questions, receive a series of text messages which provide contact details for service providers and practical information for rape victims in particular. Through the app, victims learn about the existence of LvA’s free legal services and psychosocial support and where and how those services can be accessed.   

The app is also designed to collect relevant user data including the area where the victim is located, they type of violence reported, and the date and times of app usage. This data will be used by LvA and other service providers to identify trends, such as, specific days or times that incidents occur, or potential hotspot areas. This information will help inform LvA’s services and allow for targeted outreach into the community.

The app was officially launched on November 30, 2016, during the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women and Children (a campaign held in South Africa each year from November 25 to December 10).  While it will still take some time for information about the app to travel through the community, the app holds tremendous potential to connect victims throughout Diepsloot to these much needed services. Furthermore, the app represents effective collaboration among multiple service providers all working to achieve same goals – to ensure that victims of gender-based violence receive the support and assistance they need. LvA is proud to be part of such a collaboration and is excited to broaden our reach within this community.

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Here's how it works...
Diepsloot, Ext 1, located right behind LvA Centre
Diepsloot, Ext 1, located right behind LvA Centre

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LvA’s integrated approach to gender-based violence, providing both legal and psycho-social services, is unique. This is particularly true in Diepsloot, where the LvA’s services are the only ones of their kind in the community. The importance and success of such an integrated approach can be seen in the two client stories shared below.

Thabiso’s Journey with LvA

Thabiso is a 24-year-old mother of two. She initially came to LvA with her mother, Noluthando, seeking a protection order against her abusive stepfather. The abuse had been going on for over 14 years and was directed at Noluthando, Thabiso, and their other children. When they came to LvA, both agreed to counselling to deal with the severe traumatic after-effects of the violence. Thabiso entered individual therapy and they both became regular participants in LvA’s group therapy. Through her sessions, Thabiso identified GBV as a critical issue in Diepsloot and wanted to know more about its drivers, and do more to prevent it from happening, so she joined one of our Sexual Violence Workshop Series. Following the series, she became a champion for LvA’s cause and services, referring several people from her circle of friends and neighbourhood to us for legal support and counselling. LvA operates on the assumption that an increase in knowledge about the legal system will empower women to make use of it to their benefit. Thabiso and other women like her who have attended our workshops assist LvA in spreading that knowledge and improving access to justice for all women in Diepsloot.

As for Thabiso and Noluthando, after over a decade of abuse, they were empowered to move out of the shared residence, and to start afresh in a new city. They continue to call and/or visit LvA to express their gratitude for LvA’s support.  

Nokulunga’s Journey with LvA

Whenever Nokulunga refused to have sex with her husband, he would choke her and beat her all over her body with clenched fists. He once beat her so badly that she had to seek medical care from Helen Joseph Hospital. Whenever she reported the abuse to the police, they told her that such matters were handled within the family, or, at most, would reprimand her husband for his conduct. LvA assisted Nokulunga in applying for a protection order against her husband, which was granted. After receiving the order, Nokulunga continued attending LvA’s weekly group therapy sessions. Over the next several months, there were noticeable changes in Nokulunga’s demeanour as she was visibly happier and more confident. She attributed these positive changes to the impact of the group therapy sessions. Further empowered, we saw Nokulunga take control over other areas of her life, including applying for a maintenance order against her husband. Nokulunga is just one of the countless clients LvA has assisted who, with professional and nuanced psychological and/or legal support, are able to move from a place of victimisation to one of empowerment.

Please note client names and certain details have been changed to protect identities.

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YEP Leadership Team prepares for initial meeting.
YEP Leadership Team prepares for initial meeting.

LvA is proud to announce the launch of its Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) which will take place on 19 August 2016. The idea for YEP originated from Zandile (name changed to protect privacy), one of the graduates of LvA’s Sexual Violence Workshop Series. To learn more about the Workshop Series, read our previous report entitled, "Finding a Voice”.

One key component of the workshop series is to empower participants to become agents of change within community. As both sexual violence and intimate partner violence is extremely prevalent and normalized within Diepsloot, the facilitators challenge participants to take a stand not only against violence itself, but against the prevailing harmful norms and attitudes that allow the perpetuation of violence. After completing the workshop series, Zandile, along with other graduates, were eager to continue engaging with other workshop graduates and to share what she had learned with others in her community and approached LvA for support. After several conversations with LvA staff, the YEP started to take shape.

The Program will create a platform for former workshop series’ graduates to be social change agents within their community. It aims to help them further articulate the injustices suffered by women in general and to use what they have learnt in the workshops to educate and raise awareness amongst their own families and throughout the larger Diepsloot community. The group will meet at the LvA Centre bi-weekly and each session will contain some theory presented by LvA staff on foundational topics such as “What is Power?” and “Gender and Power”, as well as topics specifically relevant to participants and their peers such as “Blesser Relationships”. The topic will then be discussed among participants through exercises and open dialogue. LvA has partnered with two students from the Drama Therapy Masters Programme at the University of Witwatersrand who will assist LvA is designing appropriate exercises and facilitating the sessions. Lastly, these sessions will also incorporate the use of a journal, which participants can use to write down their thoughts, feelings and reflections both on topics discussed in group meetings as well as on their own lived experiences. Each session will include a “journal sharing/feedback” component for discussion and debrief.

LvA’s Sexual Violence Workshop Series is aimed not only at providing information on sexual violence in general, but also at facilitating insight into the structural enablers of gender-based violence broadly, and empowering young women to become agents of change. The project proposed by Zandile demonstrates the extent to which this can be achieved.

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Diepsloot marching against sexual violence
Diepsloot marching against sexual violence

On 22 April, LvA proudly joined a diverse group of civil society and community members for a march against sexual violence and substance abuse in Diepsloot. The march was the first of its kind in the community as it joined together local NGOs, government agencies, and police officials to raise awareness about gender-based violence (GBV). In all, over 70 stakeholders and 200 community members participated in the event. 

The march began in Ext. 1, one of the most informal and violent areas of Diepsloot, and culminated at a major taxi rank in Ext. 11, recently identified by the police as a “rape hotspot.” Here, LvA, along with our partner organisations, SADAG and Sonke Gender Justice, and the Diepsloot SAPS Station Commander shared information about available services for GBV victims, encouraging victims to report crimes and community members to speak out against sexual violence. 

Accompanied by police vehicles, LvA staff and other service providers were able to engage with community members without worrying about safety concerns. Still, despite the buffer of uniformed officers and police vehicles, marchers were still whistled at and catcalled, signifying the extreme levels of street harassment the women and girls of Diepsloot face every day. 

Reflecting on her experience, LvA staff attorney, Rethabile Mosese, shared the following:

It was heartening to march alongside other black women of this community, both young and old, lending my voice to their unrelenting strength and determination.Yet, as I climbed into my taxi at the end of the day and left the multitude of shacks haphazardly piled upon one another behind, I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I was encouraged by the SAPS commitment to fighting gender-based violence in Diepsloot and yet, wondered whether a rape survivor has ‘real’ access to these resources. Would a van be able to snake its way through these unmarked streets to find her? Would a van even be available to come at all? Would her neighbours come to her aid as she waits?”

These are just a few of the very real challenges victims of sexual violence face every day in Diepsloot. LvA works hard to ensure that she does not have to face these challenges alone. Won’t you join us? 

NGOs join together against sexual violence
NGOs join together against sexual violence

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LvA
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
LvA's school workshop in Diepsloot

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Organization Information

Lawyers Against Abuse

Location: Braamfontein, Gauteng - South Africa
Website: http:/​/​www.lva.org.za
Project Leader:
Lindsay Henson
Diepsloot, Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa
$14,398 raised of $20,000 goal
 
174 donations
$5,602 to go
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