Friday | 05 June | 2020
By Anja van den Berg
Movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the corona virus may be making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous.
Gender-based violence (GBV) cases in South Africa are increasing as people are forced to stay at home to curb the spread of Covid-19. Lockdown, alert levels and social isolation are leaving victims of GBV secluded from broader society, confined to their homes with abusive partners. Economic pressure and a lack of social support – like closed schools and churches – often aggravate the abuse.
Lifeline SA chief executive Molefi Takalo says that, since the start of the Covid-19 national lockdown, the number of GBV cases has risen by 500%.
Bernadine Bachar, director at Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, says that the opportunity for a survivor to remove herself or her children from the abusive situation is curtailed because of the extended presence of the abuser.
“Due to the margin for getting out and seeking assistance being much smaller, it’s imperative that she is fully prepared when the opportunity to seek assistance presents itself.”
The National Shelter Movement of South Africa has come to the fore with a domestic violence safety plan during the Covid-19 pandemic, proposing the following steps:
- Discreetly reach out for support
Do you have a friend, colleague, family member or local organisation that you trust and can call on for support or help? If so, contact that trusted party and let them know that you may need help during this time. Secure their support, then delete the messages. Consider reaching out to multiple people for in case some people are not reachable at the time you may need help urgently.
- Delete searches and requests for help
Always err on the side of caution. Delete your internet browsing history and websites visited for resources. Erase e-mails and texts sent to your support network. If you made a call asking for help, dial another number immediately after your emergency call in case the abuser presses the redial function on your phone.
- Create signals for help
Create a set of codes between you and your support party to indicate when you need help. This can be an apparently benign word or sentence that you can use even when the abuser is within earshot. If your neighbours are part of your support group, develop a visual signal that will alert them should you be in distress. Examples of visual cues include switching an outside light on and off several times or tying a piece of material around the railing of a fence. Agree with your support party about what type of assistance is needed, depending on the code or signal.
- Preparing to leave
Pack a bag and conceal it in a safe, easily accessible place. Make sure that you include the following items:
- three sets of clothes and essential toiletries
- relevant documents, such as IDs, passports, children’s birth certificates, marriage certificate, protection order, etc.
- money and bank cards
Before you leave, confirm that you have airtime and data.
If you can, keep a record of the abuse noting dates, events and threats made. This will be useful when seeking legal support or protective interventions.
First, try to determine what would be the best time to leave. Can you wait until the abuser is asleep or occupied? If this is not possible, construct a reason for going out, such as a doctor’s visit or sick friend. Know ahead of time where you want to go to and make arrangements, if possible. If you cannot leave on your own, contact a help number.
The South African government launched the following services, available 24/7, that can be used by survivors of GBV during lockdown:
GBV Command Centre: 0800 428 428
Skype: Helpme GBV
Call or send a “please call me” to: *120*787#
Lifeline Domestic Violence Help: 0800 150 150
Apply for a protection order if you don’t have one already. Shelters and organisations can assist with the process. Magistrates’ courts also remain open during this time. Be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number. After the alert levels are lifted, make sure that your children’s schools are aware of the situation and inform them that only you or a person designated by you is authorised to collect your children from school. Continue to talk to trusted people about your situation, seek trauma counselling and legal assistance.
National Shelter Movement of South Africa: https://za.boell.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/DVSafetyPlan_digital.pdf
* All information was correct at the time of publication.