Laws of eve: Justice for victims of domestic violence
Based on the experiences I have had in handling domestic-violence cases, I am willing to hazard a guess that victims of domestic violence feel that they are among the citizens who are least likely to get justice in this country.
That comment might have raised a few eyebrows, so I will explain:
A woman who has been abused is unlikely to make an application for a protection and/or occupation order under the Domestic Violence Act if she is unable to maintain herself and her family without receiving financial support from her husband.
Although the act provides for maintenance orders to be made to accompany protection and occupation orders, the fear that the man will withdraw support if she seeks the court's intervention often outweighs a woman's fear for her own safety.
A protection order is only effective if there is a real threat of sanction if it is violated. In other words, if the person who is to be restrained by the order does not believe that he or she will be arrested and imprisoned if the order is breached, the order loses its effect.
An example of a case in which the police delayed the response to a report that an order had been violated came to my attention two weeks ago. In the first instance, a client reported that her child's father had kicked her during an encounter in a public place. When the matter was reported to a police officer, who was told where to locate the man, the client was told that they would wait until he went home from work so that he would not be embarrassed while being arrested for violating the court's order.
In the second instance, a woman who was attacked and beaten in front of a police station ran inside to escape. When she reported the matter to the police, she was surprised when a (female) officer attempted to discourage her from pressing charges against her attacker.
In all of the cases listed above, the following criticisms highlight the imperfections in the system:
• The environment in which victims are forced to report abuse is usually neither friendly nor private to encourage victims to report or pursue remedies to stop the abuse.
• In none of the cases was counselling offered to the victims. In many cases I have handled, these victims do not properly recover from the abuse because while the physical wounds are treated, the unseen emotional wounds linger, and there is risk that they may become permanent scars.
• In many cases, the fear of financial challenges force the victim to remain under the same roof as her attacker. The delays encountered until these reports can be provided to the court so that an appropriate maintenance order can be made
are usually so long that the victim is likely to endure hardships before the matter is concluded.
• Just how many safe houses are there for victims of abuse? Victims who have nowhere to go are likely to remain in homes which will allow the abuse to continue.
• Some victims of abuse may not be able to get paid leave from work to allow them to attend counselling sessions.
If the Domestic Violence Act is to be effective, there are critical aspects of the system which need to be addressed. Where police officers are called upon to respond to matters related to domestic violence, greater sensitivity and urgency is required so that victims can feel confident that the justice system will protect them.