'What happens when home is not safe?': An expert provides legal advice when living in an abusive home during lockdown

The Warrior Institute works to eliminate domestic violence in South Africa and makes information and resources available to survivors of gender-based violence via its free online portal.
The Warrior Institute works to eliminate domestic violence in South Africa and makes information and resources available to survivors of gender-based violence via its free online portal.

Domestic violence has sadly been on the rise both locally and abroad.

And although it's been put into place to protect society from the spread of coronavirus, the strict lockdown rules may have created unforeseen challenges to those shut-in with an abusive partner.

If you live under the threat of domestic violence, you may be wondering what your legal options are during lockdown.

Here attorney Deborah Di Siena, of Di Siena Attorneys provides legal advice to those living in an abusive home environment, especially when children are involved.

As the world attempts to slow the spread of Covid-19, authorities have introduced the concept of "social distancing" which calls upon people to maintain a degree of physical distance.

The optimal form of social distancing requires that people remain at home. What happens when home is not safe?

Worldwide, many vulnerable people will be exposed to emotional, physical and financial abuse during lockdown, which is one of the reasons why the courts and family law attorneys continue to work during lockdown.

'It can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation'

The statistics on domestic violence in South Africa are cause for much concern.

One in three women will experience domestic violence, and the rate of femicide (the killing of a woman by her intimate partner) is five times higher than the global average, which rate may and probably will increase during lockdown.

Domestic violence may be physical, financial, verbal, psychological or a combination of all four, and it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. 

It may include conduct meant to scare, physically harm or control a partner, child or family member.

While every relationship is different, domestic violence typically involves an abuse of power and control in which one individual attempts to dominate, belittle, assault or intimidate the other individual in a variety of ways, which all constitute domestic violence.

'Lockdown could produce an increased risk of abuse'

Some abusers may even use children, pets, or other family members to blackmail and control their victim. 

The effects of being in lockdown, the added financial pressure and uncertainty may lead to certain individuals experiencing serious mental health conditions.

The additional stress that a family may experience could produce an increased risk of abuse and domestic violence.  

The Domestic Violence Act tries to protect those who are being abused or might be forced into a situation that could become abusive in the future.

Protection orders

If a person is a victim or their child is a victim of domestic violence, they have the right to apply for a protection order at their magistrate's court, and they may also lay criminal charges at the police station. 

A protection order is an order issued by a court, ordering a person with whom you or your child have or had a domestic relationship to cease committing certain acts of domestic violence.

It may also be used to prevent the abusers from obtaining the assistance of any other person to commit acts of domestic violence. 

While a protection order attempts to limit the abuse and provide the victim with protection, in serious cases, abusers are sometimes willing to face the risk of imprisonment to continue abusing victims.

In certain cases, victims in possession of protection orders do not enforce them as they remain in fear of their abuser.

'Domestic violence-related matters may still be brought before our courts'

Victims should not be fooled by the pleas of their abusers, and they should break unhealthy and toxic cycles to avoid continued abuse.  

Even though we have been instructed to stay at home and we may only leave our homes to buy the essentials needed if you are a victim of domestic violence you can immediately apply for a protection order against your abuser.

According to the Chief Justice's directives, urgent matters relating to urgent maintenance, domestic violence-related matters and cases involving children may still be brought before our courts during the lockdown period.

If you have an existing protection order and you are still being abused, phone the South African Police Service immediately.

Once you provide the police with the warrant of arrest you received together with the protection order, the abuser will be arrested.

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