An inefficient judicial system, lack of awareness within the police force and ignorance around what constitutes abuse, are some of the reasons behind the high levels of violence in South Africa. That’s according to Bernedette Ross, the deputy-director of the Saartje Baartman centre for Women and Children in Manenberg, who says only three percent of offenders are found guilty of crimes against women and children.
Tuesday 25 November marked the start of government’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, an annual campaign aimed at raising awareness on this social ill. Ross says despite legislation, gender based violence continues to increase in the Western Cape and the rest of the country.
According to Ross, the bulk of cases go unreported. Fear, shame, denial and further abuse from the perpetrator, are some of the reasons for this and there is very little victim support
“Women feel that should they report they will be victimised and suffer in silence. There is very little victim support and campaigns such as this is a great vehicle to create awareness,” said Ross.
“Campaigns such as the 16 Days for No Violence are an excellent vehicle for creating awareness around abuse, however to really see a difference, we need to change our behaviour and the belief systems that are so deeply rooted in our country.”
The current statistics show a women is raped every four minutes and killed every six hours by an intimate partener. More than a hundred cases of child abuse are reported every week in South Africa and a child is sexually assaulted every three minutes. The chances of a girl being raped in South Africa are much higher than her chances of completing secondary education. In addition, perpetrators of abuse are getting younger.
“The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children in Manenberg was established about 15 years ago. We have assisted about a hundred thousand victims of crime and violence. Over the past few years the organisation has seen a 65% increase in violence in women and children. In a place like Maneneberg, an area were crime is rife, a service like the The Saartjie Baartman Centre is important”, said Ross.
Constructions of masculinity and patriarchy in South Africa has resulted in a readiness to use violence to assert power. However, there are misconceptions that all men are perpetarators. Ross notes that men can stand as parteners with women. She said education for young boys should start at a young age.
“There are men that will support women and say enough is enough. Not just say it but have action and say ‘no’. ”
The Centre calls out to women and children who are victims of abuse. It offers a range of skilled programes and allows shelter to young boys up to 18 years of age.
“The services we render are short and long term accomodation as well as legal assistance. Our center is the only center that accepts boys up to 18 years of age, who are accompanied by their mothers. We have a job skills programme and if you have a friend dealing with abuse you can refer them to the centre”. VOC (Nishta Sookdiyal)