Legislation to beef up fight against gender-based violence, welcomed by activists

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Protesters seen during a gender-based violence protest outside parliament on June 30, 2020 in Cape Town.
Protesters seen during a gender-based violence protest outside parliament on June 30, 2020 in Cape Town.
Photo by Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images via Get
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed off on three important pieces of gender-based violence legislation.
  • The amendment Bills will allow for all sexual offenders to be added to a national registry.
  • The new legislation will also allow for the online application for protection orders.

Three pieces of legislation that amend several key areas in the fight against gender-based violence have been welcomed by gender activists.

On Friday, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law legislation, "... aimed at strengthening efforts to end gender-based violence", according to a statement by the presidency.

Ramaphosa signed off on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill. The new legislation will see all sexual offenders listed on a national register, will make it easier for victims to give evidence and will provide a support structure for the implementation of protection orders.

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"The enactment of legislation that protects victims of abuse and makes it more difficult for perpetrators to escape justice, is a major step forward in our efforts against this epidemic and in placing the rights and needs of victims at the centre of our interventions," said Ramaphosa.

He added:

We must now continue the task of preventing abuse from occurring in the first place. This task entails men and boys checking their own values and behaviours that cause them to regard women and girls as targets of control and abuse. It also entails building a society based on advancing fundamental human rights and dealing severely with people who violate others.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill expands the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders to include the particulars of all sex offenders, and not only sex offenders against children and persons who are mentally disabled.

"We welcome the long-awaited new law legislation aimed at strengthening efforts to end gender-based violence. The amendments are primarily focused on the protection of victims, after the abuse has occurred, and making information more accessible," said Jason Behrens, founder of Jason's Angels.

"We welcome the expansion of the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) to include the particulars of all sex offenders."

However, Behrens said a more "decisive message" would have been sent to perpetrators if the government imposed a minimum mandatory sentence for all sex offenders.

He says another area not addressed by the amendments is the staffing of social development departments.

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"We would also like to see the number of social workers increased in the field as they are grossly understaffed. The government will also need to address the issues of shelters and safe houses for these victims," Behrens said.

With many shelters at capacity, there is an urgent need for more resource allocation to the sector, he said.

"The amendments are a step in the right direction. We applaud President Ramaphosa for taking this step. We will be monitoring and keeping a close eye on the judicial system to ensure these new legislations are effective immediately," said Behrens.

The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill allows for, "... additional procedures to reduce secondary victimisation of vulnerable persons in court proceedings", said the presidency.

The statement said:

The new law expands the circumstances in which a complainant can give evidence through an intermediary and provides for evidence to be given through audio-visual links in proceedings other than criminal proceedings. This legislation also tightens bail and minimum sentencing provisions in the context of gender-based violence.

Bronwyn Litkie, founder of SA Women Fight back, says she is excited to see the amendments come into effect.

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"While we still know there is a lot more to be done we feel it is a positive step in the right direction. We hope with these changes to see bail being more regularly denied for gender-based violence cases, more protection for domestic violence victims, quicker and easier applications for protection orders and maximum sentencing for these crimes," said Litkie.

"We hope to start seeing positive feedback from our victims regarding how victims' cases are handled and their outcomes."

The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill includes new definitions, such as "controlling behaviour" and "coercive behaviour", and expands existing definitions, such as "domestic violence", to include spiritual abuse, elder abuse, coercive behaviour, controlling behaviour, and/or exposing/subjecting children to certain listed behaviours. 

But importantly, the Amendment Bill introduces a number of support mechanisms for the implementation of protection orders, such as online applications for a protection order against acts of domestic violence, and obligates State departments to provide certain services to victims of domestic violence.

Kerryn Rehse, Advocacy, Policy and Research Officer at MOSAIC Training, Service & Healing Centre, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps empower women and girl survivors of domestic violence and abuse, says the changes usher in, "... a strengthened protection order system".

The electronic application process will allow for applications to be lodged 24-hours a day, outside normal court hours, without the applicant needing to leave home.

"If the magistrate believes there are sufficient grounds to grant an interim protection order, they will be able to grant it without the applicant presenting at the court," said Rehse.

"The new process does not require applicants to take a day's leave from work to be at court in-person to submit the application, which will be a relief to many, especially shift workers and those who live in areas far away from courts, such as rural areas. They can now be assisted by NGOs – such as MOSAIC – to complete applications and only attend court on their return dates."

According to Rehse, the new legislation now also contains provisions for safety monitoring notices, which is an order made by the court for the relevant police station to monitor the safety of any person who has been awarded a protection order, but who still has to share a residence with the respondent or their abuser.

 

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