Courts ‘turn away victims’

2017-12-18 16:29

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A Pietermaritzburg gender-based violence organisation is up in arms after a woman who was physically assaulted by her fiancé was refused the right to apply for a protection order by court staff.

The director of LifeLine Pietermaritzburg, Sinikiwe Biyela, told The Witness that staff members at the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court were refusing to allow survivors of domestic violence to apply for protection orders because they had not been abused at least twice before approaching the court for a protection order.

“A woman had been referred to counselling where she was told about her right to open a case or protection order against her partner.

“She was physically assaulted and still had visible bruises on her body and her partner had threatened to kill her if she terminated their relationship. She was terrified.”

Biyela said on Wednesday morning the woman was turned away by a court clerk, who said she did not qualify for a protection order because she had only been assaulted once.

Biyela said the woman came back from court very disappointed, and said counsellors had lied to her and given her false information.

“She was told there had to be a pattern of reported assaults before she could qualify,” said Biyela.

Biyela said a LifeLine senior staff member accompanied the woman but they were told the same thing by the court clerk and the clerk’s supervisor. After a lengthy argument, Biyela said the woman was eventually allowed to apply for a protection order.

“Nowhere in the Domestic Violence Act does it state that someone has to be assaulted at least twice before they can apply for a protection order. The worst thing is the fact that the court staff lacked knowledge about the act and claimed they were trained on this,” she said.

According to a LifeLine Facebook post, the court staff said they were instructed by the chief magistrate “not to allow first-time victims of domestic violence to apply for protection orders”.

“The act of South Africa is there to protect the survivors, so how would it protect survivors if it says you have to be assaulted more than once?

“What if there is no second time and those women are killed while waiting for that second time?”

Biyela said this was especially shocking as it happened just three days after the 16 Days of Activism Against the Abuse of Women and Children.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said victims do not have to have opened a criminal case before they are entitled to apply for a protection order if they have been threatened verbally.

“Our role as the police is to serve the protection order to the other party but one does not necessarily need to open a case first.

“People have the right to directly go to the court whether they have been assaulted once or more than once if they feel that their lives are under threat. The protection order is there to protect you and ensure that you are safe,” he said.

Biyela said LifeLine would like to see people who are dealing with such cases being educated about the act.

“Such cases need to be [handled] with a sense of urgency as a woman can die and be part of the statistics because of one lousy mistake due to the lack of knowledge or laziness.”

The Witness asked for comment on the matter from the National Prosecuting Authority but was referred to the Department of Justice by NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara.

The Department of Justice failed to comment on the matter.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  courts

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