Legally Speaking

The Scourge And Misunderstanding Of Domestic Violence and The Law In South Africa

Kate BoonzaierWe have all been riveted and appalled by the death of Reeva Steenkamp. It has brought about a flurry of women activist groups and uproar about the protection of women and children and constant disclosure of the dreadful statistics of the number of women and children who are invariably defenceless against domestic violence.

Those affected by domestic violence are supposedly protected by the Domestic Violence Act, but this piece of legislation is a double edged sword. The definitions of domestic violence are extremely broad. The average man on the street is ignorant of what falls under the ambit of the Act, and the protection and relief that can be obtained. There is a misconception that domestic violence is physical abuse and protection can only be sought by someone who has been beaten and subjected to physical harm. However, the Act is far wider and covers all forms of physical as well as emotional abuse. Emotional abuse covers a vast range of eventualities, including amongst other psychological abuse, financial abuse, belittling, threatening, stalking, and harassing.

The relief that can be granted is extensive and can be comforting:- A person may be prohibited from entering someone’s home and place of work; they may even be prohibited from entering certain rooms in a house if the persons live together. I have seen financial relief, where a person has been ordered to continue paying the bond over the property, or school fees. It is common, that someone is ordered to have no contact with the other, in any form whatsoever, (this includes physical contact, telephonic, email, sms, bbm, facebook etc). This incorporates any form of what could be construed as contact.

The question obviously arises as to what happens when the person who committed the acts of Domestic Violence, is in breach of the order, bearing in mind it is very often a ‘bully type’ who has stooped so low as to intimidate another person, to such an extent they have had no choice but seek recourse in law to protect their person and dignity. Once the Protection Order has been granted by the Domestic Violence Court, it becomes a criminal offence to breach the order; a warrant of arrest is issued with the final order. At the very instant that there is a breach of the order, the person who needs further protection, need merely attend on the nearest police station and have the perpetrator arrested. It culminates in a criminal record, which has vast ramifications and not very easy to get out of.

Where it becomes a double edged sword, is that it covers such a wide range of eventualities, it is often abused. Experience has shown that relief is often sought out of malice. I have been saddened to see a woman bring vexatious applications prohibiting a father from having contact with a child, with nothing more than trumped up charges, this having devastating consequences on his relationship with his child. It is also alarming to see how people are willing to lie under oath.

The bottom line is, this is a useful tool to protect women and children and any abused persons. We go on the presumption that only women and children are victims of domestic violence. Men are not excluded from abuse and are often subjected to forms of abuse by their wives or girlfriends. Abuse is not gender or spousal exclusive. Parents are abused by their children and vice versa, siblings abuse one another, the computations of who is an abused person are extremely broad.

There should be consolation that we have the Domestic Violence Act, however frustrations arise with the court process. There is a dreadful bottleneck of matters trying to get into court, an indication that domestic violence is rife in our country.
In a moraless society with statistics rising, we can only hope and pray that our government puts sufficient emphasis and funding in addressing the scourge of domestic violence on the defenceless.