Justice system responsible for high rate of women abuse

2018-06-01 13:51

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The government and justice system, including Police Minister Bheki Cele, constantly emphasise women abuse as a societal issue.

According to Eyewitness News, Cele said, "It is up to society to set a trend that perpetrators of acts of crime against women are not welcome… It’s not just a law enforcement issue, it’s a societal issue."

But by emphasising society’s role, he minimises the justice system’s accountability pertaining to women abuse.

Justice officials never reveal the great lengths that both SAPS officials and prosecution go to to pressurise abused women to withdraw their protection order cases, knowing very well that once this type of case is opened, there is not an option for the complainant to withdraw the case.

When it comes to contravention of the protection order cases, only the prosecution can decide to withdraw. The complainant is not allowed to withdraw it, because it is not only a crime against the complainant, but a crime against the state.

Even if it was within the woman’s power to withdraw the case, it cannot be expected due to the fear, emotional trauma, financial dependence, and the close nature of the relationship between the abuser and the abused. If the prosecution decides to withdraw, they need to be certain that the woman’s life will not be in danger.

I think it’s time that we all realise that the statistics on women abuse is not going to decrease with support from the government or the justice system; they have their own agendas and reasons for not dealing with these cases.

Therefore, it’s time that the media and civil society stand united in the fight against an unjust government and justice system and hold them accountable for the high rate of women abuse.

I can personally attest to the poor treatment that abused women receive from the justice system.

My sister, Veronic Peremore, wanted to execute her warrant of arrest against her accused on August 8, 2017 after he attempted to stab her. When the police officers from Bethelsdorp Police Station (Port Elizabeth) arrived, they allowed the accused to continue emotionally and verbally abusing us.

The police officers said they couldn’t arrest the alleged abuser because Bethelsdorp Police Station was under construction and there was no space. When this excuse did not suffice, they said that her protection order/warrant of arrest was outdated and that they could only take him to a family member or friend.

A protection order is granted with a warrant of arrest, and never expires. Therefore, police officers cannot refuse to arrest an abuser when the conditions of a protection order are contravened, and when presented with a warrant of arrest.

Peremore told them several times that she wanted to lay charges, but the police officers refused to open the case. The accused was removed from the shared residence to stay with family since the night of the incident. She had to go to the Bethelsdorp Police Station the next day to open the case, only to be faced by another police officer who also refused to open the case, using the same excuse about an outdated protection order/warrant of arrest. He eventually opened it reluctantly when she asserted her rights.

Slow progress

Nine months later, and the case is still not resolved and only made it to trial two months ago. Domestic violence cases need to be dealt with timeously by justice officials due to the close nature of the relationship between a woman and her accused. For the past nine months, Peremore has been faced with counter cases and protection orders made against her and her witness by the accused.

The accused opened counter cases against Peremore and her witness five days after the attempted stabbing incident occurred, and one day after he found out Peremore opened a case against him for which he was apparently arrested and released.

Prosecutors from Gelvandale Court and SAPS officials from Bethelsdorp Police Station have been asking Peremore at every opportunity if she wants to withdraw her case against the accused and have been holding the counter case as leverage or as a scare tactic to coerce her into dropping her case or for her witness to recant her statement.

SAPS officials and prosecution have been asked for charge sheets numerous times so that it can be taken to a lawyer, but they advise that there are no charge sheets, because no one has been charged, and they advised that it is not necessary to waste resources on an attorney. Yet these justice officials continue to bring up the counter cases, especially when asking her if she wants to withdraw her case. They do this even though there have been no court appearances for the counter cases nine months after it was opened.

Every time the complainant brings an irregularity to light, some tactic of victimisation is used against her and her witness to draw attention away from the malpractice of the justice officials.

When we appeared in court for the protection order that the accused made against us, a magistrate at Gelvandale Court went as far as telling the accused to move back into the house with us. The magistrate also denied any knowledge of the case my sister made against the accused even though he was the presiding officer on the case when the accused first appeared.

He also paid no attention to pleading from my sister and I that the accused would kill us. Since then, the accused moved back into the same house as my sister and I, and has since threatened on several occasions that he will kill us. At the latest incident he said, “I am going to kill them, and I’m not going to use a knife, I am going to use a gun and shoot them.” This statement was caught on voice recording and a police officer listened to it on 17 May 2018.

Peremore reported the malpractice of the police to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) in September 2017, only for the IPID to send her case to Bethelsdorp Police Station for resolution, the same station where the police officers and detectives reside against whom she made her complaint.

The station’s resolution to the complaint involved numerous meetings, each over several hours long and the promise of further meetings in future. It was clear that they wanted to make the process unnecessarily extensive and tiresome for her, because they did not want to deal with it. 

When the case finally made it to trial, important sections of her protection order had been removed from the docket and her statement made by the investigating officer had been tampered with. Instead of the prosecution taking accountability for this, they made it Peremore’s problem and gave her two options; either prosecution will request that the case be removed from the court roll and start the entire process from the beginning, or proceed and lose the case.

When Peremore asserted her rights, and held prosecution and the SAPS accountable for the missing documents and tampered information, prosecution changed their tune very quickly and instead asked the magistrate to postpone the trial so that they can get the evidence that was removed from the file.

She had to make a new statement only to be dodged by her investigating officer at numerous occasions and when she finally met with the investigating officer, the officer omitted pertinent information from the statement and did not stamp or sign it making the statement invalid once again. After spending three hours at the Bethelsdorp Police Station to make this statement, she now must return and repeat the same draining process.

Peremore also reported the malpractice of prosecutors to the Chief Prosecutor in Port Elizabeth, and the new senior prosecutor at Gelvandale Court, but instead of addressing her concerns and heeding to her request to not be further victimised for bringing irregularities to light, prosecution instead decided to ambush her in court on the day of the trial.

Peremore also sent numerous emails to various justice officials, including some of the highest-ranking officials in the Eastern Cape and South Africa for assistance regarding the malpractice of justice officials, only to receive no response or a response that shows a lack of concern. 

The media have the platforms to reach millions of people and bring to light the untold stories like this one, stories that the government and justice system hope will go unnoticed.

More importantly, the media has the power to change the narrative about abuse, a narrative which the government and justice system has worked tirelessly at imprinting in the minds of all South Africans; that women are silent about abuse.

The truth is women are silenced.

If there are any women who are experiencing abuse and have been denied their rights by SAPS officials, court clerks, prosecutors, magistrates or any other government or justice system official, please contact me on BreakTheSilencing@gmail.com.

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