'I feel like my trauma was belittled': Cape Town woman says cops didn't take GBV claims seriously

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Janelle Laattoe shared her harrowing ordeal with News24.
Janelle Laattoe shared her harrowing ordeal with News24.
PHOTO: Marvin Charles/News24
  • Gender-based violence advocacy groups say the police have failed women in the country. 
  • A Cape Town woman has spoken out about suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her former partner. 
  • Western Cape police say they have embarked on training to sensitise officers to the plight of GBV victims.

A Cape Town woman who says she suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her former partner believes the plight of women will never be addressed as long as the justice system continues to free their abusers.

Janelle Laattoe said that, after suffering in silence, she finally mustered the courage to report her partner to police in 2019, but instead of justice she got even more hardships when her docket disappeared and her case was thrown out.  

In December last year, Laattoe said her case was provisionally withdrawn, and in January, she started demanding it be put on the court roll, but to no avail.

READ | 'It is a problem of men': Ramaphosa, political parties make GBV focus of Women's Day

It was also during this time that she approached Action Society, who took on her case.

In the following weeks, Action Society learnt that her docket had gone missing.

Laattoe said she was beaten, bruised, and forced to endure her pain on her own.

She said too many women had been failed by a justice system that still discriminated against them, and far too many women were carrying the scars of their abuse while their perpetrators walked away scot-free.  

She added:

I think I can speak for many females who the system has failed.

Laattoe said opening a case against her partner was not easy, as even the police were not very helpful.

"From the moment I set foot into the police station, my battle already began with the female police officer who took my statement."

She said her statement was condensed and completely summarised, which was used to tear her version of events apart.

"I feel like my trauma was belittled."

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She adds that, while her partner was arrested, she had not been prepared for the secondary abuse she would suffer at the hands of a "flawed criminal justice system".

"Not only was I misguided by police, but the entire court process. The prosecutor should have never let them take my case off the court roll. Why was it provisionally withdrawn and not just postponed if they wanted a further investigation to be done?"

Laattoe said she feared that her abuser would walk free with no consequences or remorse.

After her ex ended up hurting other women as well, she said:

If I was taken serious, he would have never been able to hurt more women.

On Tuesday, Action Society said the docket was finally found.

Action Society's director for community safety, Ian Cameron, said they would be lodging a complaint with police watchdog IPID. 

"We will not allow incompetence and corruption on senior level to demotivate us to fight for victims of GBV. We are meeting with our legal team about going ahead with the IPID complaint against senior members who 'lost' the docket," he said.

READ | We need laws that help fight GBV, not apps - SA Women Fight Back

The country has been plagued by horrific stories of women being killed by their partners.

Weighing in on police inefficiencies, advocate Bernadine Bachar, the Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, said government departments needed to be held responsible for failing the women of South Africa.

"They should take ownership of their failings and work with communities to ensure women are not murdered or raped."

Bachar added that police had betrayed the women of South Africa.

She said:

We need police officers trained to deal with GBV. We need police stations resourced to adequately address GBV. More needs to be done at every level, starting with the immediate replacement of Bheki Cele.

The Helen Suzman Foundation, in a statement on Women's Day, also said the high levels of gender-based violence in the country meant that for far too many women "the rights to freedom and security of person, bodily integrity and dignity, exist only as aspiration".

Asked for comment, Western Cape police commissioner Thembisile Patekile said he was open to meeting victims who felt they had been failed by the police.

"I wish we could know who these women are because, in our job, we would want to ensure victims of crimes are assisted. We do not accept service levels below what is required, but we must become aware of these matters. We are embarking on all fronts to training our members to be sensitive to GBV survivors," he said.

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