When pro­tec­tion or­ders fail women

CityPress - - News - ATHANDIWE SABA and ZINHLE MA­PUMULO news@city­press.co.za

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

PHOTO: DOUG BERRY / GETTY IM­AGES

MURKY LAWS

Po­lice of­ten fail to act on pro­tec­tion or­ders, leav­ing the per­pe­tra­tor free to con­tinue abus­ing his vic­tim

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