South Africa's Domestic Violence Problem

2015-05-01 14:19

"Momma please stop cryin, I can't stand the sound

Your pain is painful and its tearin' me down I hear glasses breakin as I sit up in my bed I told dad you didn't mean those nasty things you said" - Lyrics from the Song Family Portrait by Pink.

The recent arrest of murdered Port Elizabeth teacher Jayde Panayiotou’s husband has highlighted yet again the incidence of Domestic Violence in South Africa. One of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or intimate male partner. Although women can also be violent in relationships with men, and violence is also found in same-sex partnerships, the overwhelming health burden of partner violence is borne by women at the hands of men.

Intimate Partner Violence accounts for almost 63% of the overall interpersonal violence burden on females. More women are killed by their current or ex–intimate male partner in South Africa than in any other country with a rate of 8.8 per 100 000 women. In a study of 1 229 married and cohabiting women, a prevalence of 31% intimate partner violence was found and a study on physical violence among South African men found that almost 28% reported perpetration of violence in their current or most recent partnership. In South Africa, a woman is killed by domestic violence on average roughly every eight hours and the rate of intimate femicide, the killing of women by their partners, is five times higher than the global average. Based on prevalence rates of gender-based violence within a given year a KPMG study estimated that the economic impact of that violence is between at least R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion for the year 2012/2013, representing 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP respectively.

To put that figures into perspective, there are more than seven times as many murders in South Africa than there are for example in the United States and South Africa has a population of just 51 million compared with the 317 million population in the United States. Statistically speaking, Panayiotou, (if her husband was involved in her killing) was one of three women killed by an intimate partner on the day she died in the country.

Intimate partner violence includes acts of physical aggression, psychological abuse, forced intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion, and various controlling behaviours such as isolating a person from family and friends or restricting access to information and assistance.

In 2012, Interpol labelled South Africa the "rape capital" of the world. Still, less than 1% of rape cases are reported to the South African Police Services. In 2013 the Washington Post reported that South African Police stations were running out of rape kits, which are needed to collect evidence.

It is difficult to get trustworthy statistics on violence against women in South Africa. Although the number of reported cases is very high, many cases go unreported. The incidence of domestic violence is difficult to measure since the police do not keep separate statistics on assault cases by husbands or boyfriends. When the South African Police Service reports on crime statistics each year, it does not say how many of these crimes were committed in the context of domestic violence. Very little can therefore be gathered from the South African Police Services analysis of the crime statistics, which for example only show common assault to have declined while assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm has decreased.

Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by South African women, according to the South African Stress and Health (SASH) survey. Such violence was reported by about one in eight women (13,8%) in the study and by 1,3% of men.

Violence by an intimate partner has been linked to many immediate and long-term health outcomes, including physical injury, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain syndromes, depression and suicidal behaviour.

The South African Domestic Violence Act of 1998 includes, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, harassment, damage to property, entry into the complainant’s residence without consent, where the parties do not share the same residence or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms, or may cause imminent harm to, the safety, health or well-being of the complainant. During 2009 - 2010, 291,546 people applied for a protection order in South Africa. 58.2% protection orders were and 21.2% withdrawn. In a study an analysis was done of 600 applications for protection orders from three magisterial jurisdictions in the Western Cape. It was found that 78% of applications were brought by women against men. The highest prevalence of domestic violence in South Africa has been reported in the Limpopo Province. Of the women and men who applied for an interim protection order in the Western Cape (depending on the different population groups) 62–73% reported physical violence, 89.5–100% verbal abuse, 57.1–61.5% psychological/ emotional abuse, 21.4%–38.2% economic abuse and 7.1–11.4% sexual abuse. It goes without saying that South Africa has a serious problem when it comes to Domestic Violence. The unhelpful police statistics needs to be addressed urgently. While it may not be legally practicable to create one crime of domestic violence (given the diverse acts), it should be possible for the police to record the relationship between the offender and victim and to routinely report on this. In South Africa we have a National Register for Sex Offenders, maybe the time has arrived to implement a National Register or Database of Domestic Violence Offenders. What we need is a "Social Credit Report".  Just as financial institutions document the way you repay your debts. A domestic violence register is a free, public, searchable database of individuals convicted of domestic violence-related crimes which can allow individuals to research potential partners to ensure they do not have a history of domestic violence, and may let survivors of domestic violence know where their abuser is. To document the negative, abusive, predatory or harassive acts that others have been convicted of may serve as a "social credit report" which could save lives.

Bertus Preller - Family Law Attorney

Bertus Preller & Associates Inc.

T: +27 21 422 2461

Twitter: @bertuspreller


Facebook: divorceattorneys


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