Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in SA

by Lawyers Against Abuse
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.


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


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 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


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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Organization Information

Lawyers Against Abuse

Location: Braamfontein, Gauteng - South Africa
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Lindsay Henson
Diepsloot, Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa
$11,024 raised of $12,000 goal
163 donations
$976 to go
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