LSSA and SAPS roll up their sleeves on joint domestic violence initiative

August 1st, 2013
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By Barbara Whittle

Representatives of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) held a workshop in Kempton Park at the end of June 2013 to outline their respective roles in a joint initiative aimed at supporting the victims of domestic violence who report these crimes to the SAPS.

The LSSA approached the SAPS at the end of 2012, through its Family Law and Gender Equality Committees, to identify the challenges being experienced by both attorneys and the SAPS in dealing with the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998. Several discussions were held and it was agreed that attorneys could play an important role in sensitising police station commanders and the SAPS trainers on the treatment of victims reporting abuse and enforcing the legislation. The June workshop brought together senior SAPS training heads, members of the LSSA committees as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who assist the victims of domestic violence.

‘Fourteen years after the implementation of this Act, parliament has heard that only 12 of the 162 police stations have been found to be compliant with the Act,’ said Durban attorney Susan Abro, chairperson of the LSSA Gender Equality Committee in opening the workshop. ‘We must prioritise crimes against women and children and we need to change the attitudes of people who deal with victims of these crimes both from a policing side, but also from a public perception side. As a society we are increasingly becoming inured to violent crime,’ she noted.

Attorney members of the LSSA committees will be providing their services to assist the SAPS pro bono as part of their commitment to breaking the cycle of violence being experienced by the more vulnerable members of society. It is envisaged that this will be the first phase in an ongoing joint project that will include public initiatives during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children at the end of this year.

‘The initiative stems from the public perception that the victims of domestic and gender-based violence do not get the appropriate assistance and treatment in every matter when they approach the SAPS. Attorneys and police officers are duty-bound to ensure that victims receive sensitive and professional service when reporting domestic violence matters so that the matters can be processed successfully through the criminal justice system. From the LSSA’s side we hope to strengthen the message that domestic violence will not be tolerated on the one hand and, on the other, to assist police officers in dealing with the victims of this scourge appropriately,’ said Welkom attorney Martha Mbhele, who chairs the LSSA Gender Equality Committee.

The joint initiative envisages attorneys – with the support of relevant NGOs – supplementing and complementing the current training provided to SAPS station commanders, trainers and other senior police officials by offering information sessions on how to deal appropriately with domestic violence matters and with the victims of domestic violence who approach the SAPS to report these matters. Those in leadership positions will then be better placed to sensitise those who deal with domestic violence issues at grass-roots level where these are reported to the SAPS.

Speaking at the June workshop, major-general Susan Pienaar, SAPS Head of Crime Prevention in the Visible Policing Division, said: ‘In our initial discussions with the LSSA we agreed that we have the same objectives and concerns in ensuring that we come to a better comprehension of the experiences of domestic violence victims. We need to inculcate an understanding of the importance of dealing correctly with domestic violence matters.’

She added: ‘Every case that is reported to the SAPS is an opportunity to intervene. We want a cadre of police leaders and trainers who can guide and assist operational police officers on the ground to deal with what are often difficult situations that require critical decisions to be made even by junior officers on the ground. One of the principle aspects of the National Crime Prevention Strategy is to break the cycle of violence, which often starts at home. This is one of the causal factors for violent crime in South Africa. Any initiative to make inroads into breaking that cycle is welcomed.’

Compiled by Barbara Whittle, communications manager, Law Society of South Africa, barbara@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2013 (Aug) DR 13.