The onslaught of Covid-19 has served to highlight shortcomings across many areas within South African society - with the topic of gender-based violence (GBV) playing a prominent role. Despite research indicating that South Africa has, over the years, taken action to promote gender equality and women's rights - with several legislations in place to address GBV well before 2019, GBV remains unacceptably high.
According to Sandri Appelgryn, private social worker in the field of forensic practice and member of The South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP), “The sad reality is, despite the actions taken prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the public remained oblivious to the prevalence and impact of GBV unless it was experienced first-hand. Further, very little knowledge existed around the practical implementation of said legislation.”
“The cause of GBV cannot be attributed to a single factor - but rather an interplay of individual, community, economic, cultural and religious factors interacting at different levels of society,” continues Appelgryn. “A universal value system rejecting any elements of GBV was re-introduced to the South African society with the outbreak of Covid-19. However, there is still a long way to go before it will be completely integrated. Crime stats for the 1st quarter of 2021/2022 revealed 10,006 people were raped between April and June 2021 - an increase of 4,201 cases (72.4% increase), compared to the corresponding period in the previous financial year .”
Referred to as South Africa’s ‘second’ pandemic, and with South Africa sometimes known as the ‘destination of femicide’, the South African government has identified several key focus areas to help eliminate GBV in the country by 2030. These include an effective legal framework, statute and procedural law that promotes access to justice, redress, protection and compensation; to criminalise violence against women and prosecute the perpetrators; to devise a plan of action looking at policies on violence against women with a strong evidence base and political will for its implementation; increased awareness and sensitivity of professionals and officials; allocation of resources to support advocacy groups and NGOs; promotion of women’s advancement by addressing structural inequalities; improving the collection and publication of data, re-evaluating policies and basic research programmes looking into GBV and to promote and establish prevention and awareness-raising programmes.
“In theory this strategic plan should be effective in addressing GBV,” says Appelgryn. “However, its success will depend on the effectiveness and role of our SAPS, victims being supported with access to the legal system and courts, budget allocated and implementing the Domestic Violence Act and cooperation among government departments.”
Appelgryn goes on to add that additional measures that need to be considered include prioritising services that offer preventative interventions to potential victims. Of equal importance is the viewing of supposed ‘minor’ offences committed by perpetrators. “These need to be viewed in a far more serious light by our legal system to allow for medical and psycho-therapeutic interventions, monitored by court officials – thereby supporting the notion of early intervention and prevention of GBV. The first port of call, however, remains easily accessible and highly trained staff able to assist the victim with relevant information with regards to resources and the completion of documentation when applying for a protection order."
Younger generations also desperately need to be educated in being able to identify GBV and to associate it with a criminal offence, in addition to being empowered to report it to the designated institutions. “The youth of South Africa should be educated to understand that GBV is not the norm and should never be treated as such. Supporting the youth to be involved in organising public campaigns, aimed at raising awareness of GBV, should be more prevalent. Further, familiarising youth with the legal systems in place might also encourage them to report incidents of GBV they are witnessing,” stresses Appelgryn.
For people in a potentially volatile situation, Appelgryn recommends that they physically distance themselves from the perpetrator. “Given all the challenges a woman will be experiencing on an emotional level, it is vital for women to have access to a professional person in the medical, legal or social work fields of practice. Such access will also allow for the necessary counselling and guidance needed to allow a victim to safely consider her options, plan her strategy for applying the relevant legislation and make use of available resources.” However, Appelgryn does stress that should anyone find themselves in immediate danger, the SAPS should be called immediately to ensure instant protection from harm.
For those who suspect that their loved one may be caught up in a GBV situation, Appelgryn advises that they may present with unexplainable injuries and may refuse medical attention. It is also common that they will offer excuses for the perpetrator’s behaviour and become very defensive when approached or concerns are raised. “You might also note symptoms of depression and anxiety but, potentially, also aggression towards others such as their own children. They might offer excuses for not being able to attend social gatherings or behave out of character when they do attend. Excessive alcohol and drug abuse might further be an indication of their difficulty in coping with their current situation.”
Appelgryn also cautions that, understandably, victims of GBV might be extremely anxious to take the first step in addressing their situation. “Actions being forced upon them might increase their anxiety and reluctance to allow the intervention to take its course. Empathy is therefore critical when approaching a victim of GBV who has not spoken out yet.”
“Victims need to be empowered with access to information and guaranteed support. If the victim is not in immediate danger, such information can be offered to her in a way that will not put her at risk with on-going follow up often necessary to support and encourage her to take the necessary action.” However, Appelgryn again stresses that should anyone be in immediate danger, SAPS must be contacted for immediate intervention.
Appelgryn provides several helplines available to both victims of GBV and their loved ones seeking to assist:
- SAPS Emergency: 10111
- Crime Stop (all cases of rape, sexual assault or any form of violence): 086 00 10111
- GBV Command Centre (24-hour, toll-free): 0800 428 428
- Commission for Gender Equality (report gender discrimination and abuse): 0800
- Domestic Violence Helpline (Stop Women Abuse): 0800 150 150/ *120*7867#
- Thuthuzela Care Centres Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs): one-stop facilities that have been introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy, aiming to reduce secondary victimisation and to build a case ready for successful prosecution. The website also provides access to information on gender-based violence.
Please refer to https://www.justice.gov.za/vg/TCCs-list.pdf for a list of contact numbers.
- People Opposed to Woman Abuse (Powa)
Powa provides counselling, both over the phone and in person, temporary shelter for and legal help to women who have experienced violence.
Tel: 011 642 4345
- Childline South Africa
This non-profit organisation helps abused children and their families with a free counselling service. It deals with issues such as physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, behavioural problems and trafficking, and gives legal advice.
Toll-free helpline: 0800 055 555
- Child Welfare South Africa
Child Welfare South Africa focuses on child protection, childcare and family development. Neglect and child abuse can also be reported.
Tel: 074 080 8315
- Famsa provides counselling and education to help improve marriages and families. It helps in cases of domestic violence and trauma, divorces and mediation. There are 27 offices across the country.
Tel: 011 975 7106/7
- Tears Foundation
TEARS Foundation provides access to crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling, and prevention education services for those impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse.
Free SMS helpline: *134*7355#
Tel: 010 590 5920
- The Trauma Centre
The Trauma Centre provides trauma counselling and violence prevention services for people affected by violence
Tel: 021 465 7373
Support group available to victims of GBV
- Halt Elder Abuse Line (Heal) – helpline for elderly people
Helpline: 0800 003 081