When protection orders fail women
After enduring 16 years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the man who once claimed she was the love of his life, Mapule Badi* called it quits. The mother of two from Soweto thought she would finally find peace and not always have to look behind her in fear. But trouble followed her. Badi (37) is one of more than 30 women who have instituted claims against the state after being failed by the criminal justice system. Many of them have been denied protection orders. Some obtained protection orders only to have them ignored by their partners. The partner of another woman obtained a protection order against her when she was the one being beaten.
Lawyer Sushila Dhever, a partner at law firm Fasken Martineau, is handling their cases for free.
She has identified three main problems facing the victims of domestic violence who approach the state for help: judicial officers are often too cautious and conservative when asked to grant protection orders; police fail to act on them; and there is a disjunction between civil and criminal processes.
One of her cases involved a woman who obtained a protection order, but her partner ignored it and tried to stab her at her home. He stabbed a door instead. He was charged with malicious damage to property and released. A month later, he again breached the order and burnt the woman’s mother alive in the house.
“Had he been charged properly the first time, there is a strong possibility that he would not have murdered the complainant’s mother. The failure to adequately charge and prosecute perpetrators ... renders protection orders meaningless,” said Dhever.
“Statistics show that women in possession of protection orders are still dying. At the heart of the problem lie police officers who fail to implement orders. Most police officers are cautious and will not always arrest perpetrators.
“Complainants are not advised or assisted with laying criminal charges. In many of my cases ... police were reluctant to make an arrest because they feared being sued for unlawful arrest.”
Dhever suggested that police needed an incentive scheme to encourage them to report abuse and arrest perpetrators.
“Very often, underreporting is as a result of police officers not wanting to be penalised for inaction ... Some may ask why one should reward police officers for doing what they are supposed to do anyway. My counter-argument is that we have tried the stick approach, and it has not worked.”
Badi, whose partner chased her out of their home two years ago after accusing her of having an affair, said: “It all seemed to be going well when I moved to my mother’s place. But then he came back into my life, saying he missed the kids.
“I allowed him back, although I was still angry at how he chased me out of the house, beating me with a hammer. After a few visits, he started telling me he missed me and wanted me to come back home.
“I told him that would never happen and he became angry and threatened me. At first I thought these were empty threats meant to scare me, but then they intensified until he told me he would kill me.”
She turned to the police for a protection in March last year, but officers at the Naledi Police Station “told me they don’t do protection orders. I had nowhere else to turn. When I walk down the street, I fear that he will attack because he knows that I have moved on with my life and he is not happy about that.”
*Not her real name
Police often fail to act on protection orders, leaving the perpetrator free to continue abusing his victim