With August being Women’s Month, and considering the appalling figures of domestic violence, it is fitting that we highlight the plight of many women in South African society. Every year in August, South Africa celebrates Women’s Month and intensifies campaigns around women’s rights. Yet, despite the consistent focus on the rights of women and the struggles they face in South African society, the statistics on rape and domestic violence remain staggering.
“Rape, targeting women and girls, is a serious problem in South Africa. The 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release reported that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men. Using the 2016/17 South African Police Service statistics, in which 80% of the reported sexual offences were rape, together with Statistics South Africa’s estimate that 68,5% of the sexual offences victims were women, we obtain a crude estimate of the number of women raped per 100 000 as 138. This figure is among the highest in the world. For this reason, some have labelled South Africa as the ‘rape capital of the world’.”
Supervisory legal practitioner at Legal Aid South Africa’s Athlone office, Donna Fortuin says that the statistics speak for themselves and that government is therefore taking the necessary actions to combat the scourge.
“Gender-based violence is on the increase, despite women being afforded more rights and legislation being in place…it’s becoming more and more prevalent,” she said.
“So, what government is doing, is to step in and come down harder on offenders. Government is enforcing the legislation more aggressively so as to address the problem that exists in our community.”
Fortuin added that there is often a misconception of what the concept of “domestic violence” encompasses.
“Domestic violence encompasses a range of things. The Domestic Violence Act prescribes what to take into consideration as domestic violence…
It can be ongoing patterns of control over a victim, it can be financial abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse and emotional abuse. The Act even goes as far as extending to economic abuse.”
Fortuin elaborated on the concept of economic abuse and its inclusion in the Act, saying that it protects women from abusive partners and children who steal property or access joint accounts to fuel their drug habits at the expense of their partners’ – or mothers’ – wellbeing.
“The Act is very broad and addresses a wide range of issues,” said Fortuin.
For those concerned neighbours, friends and family members who suspect their loved ones are victims of abuse, third parties are able to report domestic violence.
“The beauty of the Act is that it makes provision for a party with a material interest in the wellbeing of the person affected [to be able to report abuse]…It’s not limited to the victim. Sometimes people in situations like that aren’t thinking clearly and need the assistance of people who have an interest in their wellbeing,” said Fortuin.
She advises, however, that before reporting these matters to authorities there needs to be a certain degree of clarity on the situation.
“Always speak to the person first, because you don’t know the circumstances. If you feel that the person isn’t thinking clearly, ordinarily you’d go to the court closest to where you live or in the area you work. Every local magistrate court has a family law section – approach the clerk of the domestic violence court. The Department of Justice has set up a domestic violence clerk who will help the person bring the application forward. Alternatively, approach an attorney who will bring the application on their behalf.”
For more information, visit www.legal-aid.co.za
Alternatively, for those without access to the internet or who do not have funds for airtime, contact the “Please Call Me Line” for Legal Aid at 079 835 7179.