Few safe havens for women, child vic­tims of vi­o­lence

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - LEILA SAMODIEN

VI­O­LENCE against women and chil­dren in South Africa is des­per­ately high, and the vic­tims of­ten have very few safe havens to turn to.

A shock­ing 1 461 chil­dren in South Africa were mur­dered in a year be­tween part of 2007 and last year. The year be­fore that, 1 630 were killed.

Even more women were mur­dered by way of “femi­cide” – a term used to de­scribe the killing of women by men, usu­ally fu­elled by misog­yny. In 2007/2008, a to­tal of 2 780 women were mur­dered, and 2 744 were slain the year be­fore.

This was the grim pic­ture laid be­fore Par­lia­ment’s women, youth, chil­dren and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties port­fo­lio com­mit­tee this week when the SAPS and non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Child­line ad­dressed the com­mit­tee. Al­though the com­mit­tee pressed for more re­cent fig­ures, as well as rape statis­tics, po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tives were not able to present th­ese, say­ing the an­nual statis­tics had not yet been re­leased.

Com­mis­sioner Ter­tius Gelden­huys, head of the po­lice’s le­gal ser­vices leg­is­la­tion branch, said there were only 60 shelters in the coun­try for women and chil­dren who were vic­tims of vi­o­lence.

He said that be­side preven­tion, the po­lice also had a duty to pro­vide vic­tim sup­port.

While they had a num­ber of ini­tia­tives, such as train­ing, in place to fully equip their fa­cil­i­ties and staff to deal with such in­ci­dents, they faced a num­ber of chal­lenges.

This in­cluded gen­der sen­si­tiv­ity among po­lice­men; a lack of aware­ness among com­mu­ni­ties about leg­is­la­tion; proper co-or­di­na­tion be­tween gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, NGOs and com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives; and round-the-clock avail­abil­ity of th­ese role­play­ers.

Com­mit­tee chair­woman Bar­bara Thom­son raised par­tic­u­lar con­cer ns about the num­ber of shelters avail­able to vic­tims. “This cer­tainly doesn’t help with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of leg­is­la­tion,” she said.

Child­line’s Joan van Niek­erk said that last year the or­gan­i­sa­tion fielded about one mil­lion calls on its cri­sis coun­selling line. Many of the calls were re­lated to abuse, with phys­i­cal abuse, emo­tional abuse and ne­glect rank­ing the high­est.

Van Niek­erk said they also faced a num­ber of chal­lenges in help­ing abused chil­dren.

This in­cluded the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of a spe­cial child pro­tec­tion unit; a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in ser­vice de­liv­ery; bud­get for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Chil­dren’s Act; the re­ces­sion; and a lack of re­sources for child ser­vices.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion was hav­ing prob­lems with abused chil­dren and adults be­ing turned away at po­lice sta­tions when they tried to re­port sex­ual abuse.

“As one pro­vin­cial po­lice com­mis­sioner noted to me in a meet­ing, the tar­get of 7-10 per­cent re­duc­tion in rapes an­nu­ally is im­pos­si­ble to achieve,” said Van Niek­erk in her pre­sen­ta­tion.

“The only way we can do it is turn vic­tims away, and this is what some po­lice sta­tions have been do­ing – telling par­ents that their chil­dren will be trau­ma­tised by the (ju­di­cial) process and that they can do noth­ing if the child is ‘ too young to tes­tify’.”

Po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tives said amend­ments to sex­ual of­fences leg­is­la­tion, which came into ef­fect in De­cem­ber 2007, had al­lowed for the po­lice to have greater reach in terms of such in­ci­dents.

It al­lowed for com­pul­sory HIV test­ing of al­leged sex­ual of­fend­ers, a na­tional reg­is­ter which was not yet in op­er­a­tion, in­tro­duced 66 new of­fences, abol­ished gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and cre­ated spe­cific of­fences to pro­tect chil­dren and adults with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

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