Gen­der-based vi­o­lence is a se­ri­ous illness, we need to act now!

Post - - COMMENT - Goven­der and Nadvi are aca­demics and mem­bers of the Board of the Ad­vice Desk for the Abused SURIA GOVEN­DER LUBNA NADVI

IT IS a firmly es­tab­lished re­al­ity that South Africa is a vi­o­lent so­ci­ety.

The sta­tis­tics re­leased an­nu­ally by the SAPS and other agen­cies clearly speak to this fact. The alarm­ing in­crease in vi­o­lence against fe­males re­flect another fright­en­ing dy­namic of this state of af­fairs.

The truth is that our na­tion’s men are abus­ing and killing our women and fe­male chil­dren at a rate that is vir­tu­ally un­prece­dented else­where in the world.

One in three women will be­come a vic­tim of some form of gen­der-based vi­o­lence in her life­time.

Why is this hap­pen­ing? The an­swers to the ques­tion are com­plex and are re­lated to a range of in­flu­ences, from cul­tural to po­lit­i­cal.

It might have been eas­ier if this ques­tion could have been ad­dressed by sim­ply cit­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal or so­ci­o­log­i­cal fac­tors that are shap­ing the vi­o­lent be­havioural ten­den­cies.

How­ever, the his­tory and legacy of vi­o­lence runs deep and can­not be ex­plained in one-di­men­sional terms.

How­ever, it is pos­si­ble to map out and iden­tify gaps that have emerged in the so­cial fabric of our so­ci­ety, which are con­tribut­ing to the poor re­sponse to­wards the vi­o­lence.

It is also pos­si­ble to at­tempt to rec­tify these to be­gin the hard work of re­duc­ing the in­ci­dence and preva­lence of gen­der­based vi­o­lence.

To do this we need to un­der­stand the im­ple­men­ta­tion of so­lu­tions from two broad ap­proaches.

The first is a pre­ven­ta­tive or pre-in­ci­dence ap­proach where we have mea­sures in place to en­sure the vi­o­lence does not take place in the first in­stance.

Ide­ally, this is where we need to shift our focus, so that we re­duce the bur­den be­ing placed on the sec­ond ap­proach – the post-in­ci­dence re­sponse to vi­o­lence.

Many of our struc­tural in­ter­ven­tions are geared to­wards re­spond­ing to gen­der-based vi­o­lence af­ter it has taken place. This oc­curs where the le­gal, med­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, so­cial, re­li­gious and other in­sti­tu­tions are over­bur­dened with re­gard to pro­vid­ing sup­port to vic­tims and sur­vivors af­ter they have en­dured a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence of some kind, whether it is do­mes­tic abuse, sex­ual as­sault or rape.

Vic­tims might make their way to a po­lice sta­tion to open a case or go to the courts to seek a pro­tec­tion or­der. They might even ap­proach the main­te­nance or fam­ily court to deal with di­vorce or child cus­tody mat­ters.

The gov­ern­ment has set up the Thuthuzela Care Cen­tres as one-stop places where vic­tims can seek med­i­cal, le­gal and other as­sis­tance.

NGOs and pub­lic ben­e­fit or­gan­i­sa­tions, like the Ad­vice Desk for the Abused, Per­sons Op­posed to Women Abuse and Jess Fo­ord have emerged to sup­port sur­vivors.

Over the past 20 years, South Africa has in­tro­duced some of the most ad­vanced leg­is­la­tion in the world to pro­tect vic­tims. These in­clude the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act (1998), Chil­dren’s Act (2005), Older Per­son’s Act (2006), the Sex­ual Of­fences and Re­lated Mat­ters Act (2007), Child Jus­tice Act (2008) and the Pro­tec­tion from Ha­rass­ment Act (2011).

Pro­vi­sions are in place to en­sure that per­pe­tra­tors of gen­der-based vi­o­lence are to be given the harsh­est sen­tences pos­si­ble which, in turn, is meant to act as a de­ter­rent to pos­si­ble per­pe­tra­tors.

These acts, par­tic­u­larly the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act, are de­signed to pro­vide ef­fec­tive and speedy reme­dies for vic­tims. Sex­ual as­sault, rape and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are crim­i­nal of­fences and are pros­e­cuted by the state.

How­ever, de­spite all the ad­vance­ments in law and the ex­is­tence of sup­port struc­tures, we still have a high preva­lence of gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

The rea­son can be at­trib­uted largely to the poor im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pro­vi­sions and rights con­tained in the leg­is­la­tion.

In ad­di­tion, South Africans are gen­er­ally not au fait with their rights. As a re­sult, they are sub­ject to fur­ther vic­tim­i­sa­tion when they at­tempt to seek help. Some­times po­lice of­fi­cers at a po­lice sta­tion might refuse to open a case file in a sex­ual as­sault case even though they are obliged to do so by law.

Some mag­is­trates might have a poor un­der­stand­ing of the cor­rect cir­cum­stances in which pro­tec­tion or­ders are to be granted. As a re­sult, the ap­pli­cants face fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions where a per­pe­tra­tor of do­mes­tic abuse ends up in the same house as the vic­tim.

These are ex­am­ples of how the shoddy im­ple­men­ta­tion of what are oth­er­wise well-thought-out pieces of leg­is­la­tion are con­tribut­ing to­wards the prob­lem.

The ques­tion then re­mains: What do we do about it?

Aware­ness

The first place to start is ob­vi­ously a mas­sive na­tion­wide ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ment cam­paign, which seeks to dis­sem­i­nate the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion which the pub­lic and all stake­hold­ers need to ad­dress the prob­lems.

Well, there are many such cam­paigns al­ready, you might ar­gue, why are these not ef­fec­tive in stem­ming the tide of vi­o­lence?

The rea­son is be­cause they are geared to­wards the post-in­ci­dence ap­proach, where the vi­o­lence has es­ca­lated and what is then re­quired are man­age­ment strate­gies to “mop up” the af­ter­math of the vi­o­lence. This in­cludes med­i­cal care, trauma coun­selling, le­gal as­sis­tance and shel­ter sup­port.

How­ever, the ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign needs to focus on the pre­ven­ta­tive and pre-in­ci­dence ap­proach, much like the na­tional HIV cam­paigns work – they urge one not to get in­fected in the first in­stance.

This re­quires that we rad­i­cally mod­ify the early child­hood devel­op­ment, pri­mary and sec­ondary school syl­labi and gear them to­wards teach­ing learn­ers about how to avoid sit­u­a­tions of abuse and gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

Learn­ers should also be ed­u­cated about their rights in this con­text. The life ori­en­ta­tion skills com­po­nent of most of our school syl­labi does not ad­dress this knowl­edge and skills set. We ur­gently need to en­sure they do.

Of course, the im­pact of re­vis­ing the school cur­ricu­lum can be as­sessed only af­ter some time has elapsed.

The same should ide­ally take place at in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing.

In terms of the post-in­ci­dence ap­proaches, there are mas­sive gaps in the knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the laws and how they func­tion.

All po­lice of­fi­cers, mag­is­trates and other court of­fi­cials who are role play­ers in the leg­isla­tive pro­cesses need to be fur­ther trained in how to im­ple­ment the laws more ef­fec­tively.

All cit­i­zens need to have a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of their rights, so they can re­spond to and dif­fuse any abuse when they en­counter it.

We need to de­velop pub­lic net­works of sup­port in all com­mu­ni­ties so that if a woman or a girl is at­tacked in any way, she is able to seek im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance or reach a safe place as soon as pos­si­ble.

In the same way that other pub­lic health as­sis­tance like vac­ci­na­tions are pro­vided to chil­dren, health clin­ics should also be­come places where in­for­ma­tion about gen­der-based vi­o­lence and how to deal with it is dis­sem­i­nated.

All forms of pub­lic trans­port, street poles, shop­ping malls and other vis­i­ble pub­lic ar­eas like petrol sta­tions should have posters and stickers put up with emergency num­bers and other in­for­ma­tion about what to do in a sit­u­a­tion of sex­ual as­sault, rape or do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

This should in­clude in­for­ma­tion about how to pro­tect one­self from be­com­ing a vic­tim as well as how to man­age a sit­u­a­tion af­ter one has been at­tacked.

Per­haps the most crit­i­cal as­pect of our in­ten­si­fied ap­proach has to be the role played by the pub­lic. While we all de­serve safe spa­ces that are pro­tected by our law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, the re­al­ity is that we do not have the ideal sce­nario.

Hence the re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with us, as cit­i­zens, to de­mand that the mea­sures that have been sug­gested in this col­umn (and in other for­ma­tions like the na­tional Shut Down cam­paign) are im­ple­mented.

There are many or­gan­i­sa­tions that are do­ing ex­cel­lent work in try­ing to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion and pro­vide as­sis­tance to the pub­lic, but they are strug­gling to sur­vive and re­main func­tional be­cause of a lack of fund­ing, or be­cause the avail­able fund­ing is be­ing spent in­ap­pro­pri­ately.

We need to fund such NGOs from cor­po­rate and com­mu­nity re­sources.

We can­not con­tinue to bury vic­tims of gen­der-based vi­o­lence at the rate we are. Nor do we have the lux­ury to re­main ap­a­thetic about the scourge of gen­der-based vi­o­lence. It has be­come a pub­lic health epi­demic and in re­spond­ing to it, we need to treat it as such and do what we would oth­er­wise do to save lives im­pacted upon by a se­ri­ous illness.

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