Many citizens praised the South African government’s swift response to the Covid-19 outbreak after it was announced that the country would enter a 21-day lockdown. Several people felt the lockdown would undoubtedly curb the spread of infection. And to these individuals, the instruction to stay at home seemed valid and safe. But for other citizens, especially women who suffer from domestic violence, the instruction felt like a frightening prison sentence. To these women, home is place of a terror – not a safe haven.
What does Covid-19 mean for South African victims of domestic violence?
It is no secret that South Africa is home to some of the most horrific cases of domestic abuse. Just last year, an outcry against gender-based violence filtered the streets in a series of moving protests. These protests claimed “enough is enough,” and pleaded for an end to the abuse that young girls and adult women relentlessly suffer. Sadly, despite this powerful movement, gender-based violence still occurs on a daily basis.
With lockdown measurements in place, more and more families will remain at home together. And in South Africa, the majority of these families live in cramped quarters. Subsequently, the risk of domestic abuse against women and children will increase. And since most service providers have closed, victims of this kind of abuse won’t have the immediate access to the help they need.
On Thursday 2 April, Police Minister Bheki Cele stated at a national briefing that 87 000 gender-based violence cases have been reported to the police since the lockdown started. This figure is worrying – and it will only continue to rise as we enter the second week of lockdown.
Financial stress and anxiety over Covid-19 could trigger acts of violence in a home. Alcohol consumption is especially an enormous player in the field of domestic-violence triggers. This trigger alone is one of the key reasons why the sale of alcohol during the lockdown period is prohibited.
SA’s lockdown prohibits the sale of alcohol
Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu shared in an eNCA interview that she and her department weren’t opposed to this regulation at all. “We welcome the decision,” she told reporters. “We appreciate and understand exactly what happens when people consume a lot of alcohol and go home.”
Minister Zulu then urged communities and neighbours to report incidents of domestic violence that they see or hear. She said these cases can be reported to the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre via their website or the contact number 0800 150 150.
We all need to play our part and report any suspected form of abuse. The number 0800 150 150 can be used to report incidents of gender based violence for urgent responses. #GBV #Coronavirus #day8oflockdown pic.twitter.com/R0YjCAK9n8
— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) April 3, 2020
“We are calling on all organisations that do work around gender-based violence to continue their work,” Minister Zulu stated. “The fact that we are in a lockdown does not mean we must lose sight of the violence against women and children.”
Citizens can help combat domestic violence by keeping their eyes and ears on the ground. File a report or call the police if you witness an act of abuse. But also take note that not all cases are put on display. Domestic violence often occurs behind closed doors, too. These are the victims whose cries you won’t ever hear or see.
What to do if you don’t feel safe during the Covid-19 lockdown
Reach out to a friend or family member if you don’t feel safe at home. The nation may be under lockdown, but you are still permitted to escape abusive circumstances. Get in touch with the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre via one of their helplines if you’re too afraid to speak to someone you know.
The centre offers a national 24-hour emergency contact number (0800 428 428) that anyone can call on any day of the week. This number is supported with a ‘please call me’ function, which you can use by dialling *120*7867#. Members of the deaf community can contact the centre on Skype via the handle ‘Helpme GBV‘. Disabled persons can use the SMS line by sending ‘help‘ to the number 31531. The centre is also able to transfer calls directly to the police if they feel such services are needed.
All Thuthuzela Care Centres will remain open during the Covid-19 lockdown period. These centres are based at 54 hospitals around the country. They offer emergency medical services to rape survivors within 72 hours after the rape.
All Thuthuzela Care Centres will remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown period as an essential service to support rape survivors. Here is a national list of the TCCs #COVID19 #RapeCrisis #TCC #LockDownSA #GBV pic.twitter.com/DmNZFpNSLq
— Rape Crisis Cape Town (@RapeCrisis) April 4, 2020
Here is a list of additional organisations that assist victims of abuse:
TEARS Foundation is a women-led organisation that offers nationwide assistance with a 24-hour free SMS service. The foundation can connect victims with emergency shelters or counsellors that are closest to them.
- Free SMS helpline: *134*7355#
- Tel: 010 590 5920
- Email: [email protected]
People Opposed to Woman Abuse (Powa) offers counselling, both over the phone and in person. The organisation can also provide temporary shelter and legal help to women who have experienced violence.
- Tel: 011 642 4345
- E-mail: [email protected]
The South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers a number of helplines that victims can contact if they need emotional support.
- Chat with a counsellor seven days a week from 9am to 4pm via WhatsApp on the number 076 882 2775.
- Send an SMS to the number 31393 or 32312 and a counsellor will call you back (available seven days a week, 24 hours a day).
- Call one of these numbers if you’d like to speak to a SADAG counsellor: 0800 21 22 23, 0800 70 80 90, 0800 456 789.
- Suicide helpline tel: 0800 567 567.
Interim protection orders will be issued during lockdown
The courts will remain open for all protection order applications. They will issue interim orders until the lockdown has ended and final orders will be dealt with after. The Women’s Legal Centre is offering legal assistance during this lockdown period as well. Dial 079 421 8197 if you’d like a telephonic consultation.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: You DO NOT have to be trapped with your abuser during #LockdownSA! You may not be stopped from accessing the services that are allowed in the Regulations. #DomesticViolence #GenderBasedViolence pic.twitter.com/qhVrtWJwhh
— Lawyers for Human Rights (@LHR_SA) April 3, 2020
The w&h team stands in solidarity against gender-based violence within this unprecedented time. We know the Covid-19 pandemic has unlocked fear and stress in many of our readers. We encourage you to reach out to your fellow neighbour (in a virtual sense, naturally) and simply check in.
Asking if those around you are okay is one of the greatest examples of human kindness we have to offer right now. Let’s all help fight this crisis together with kindness.
By Features Writer Marike Watson