NATIONAL NEWS - For a country with some of the worst gender-based violence (GBV) statistics globally, there can be little doubt that the forced isolation of the coronavirus lockdown – which has now been extended to five weeks – will lead to increased violence for many. The number of calls to South Africa’s GBV hotlines is a testament to this.
The situation appears even more desperate when considering the increase in GBV statistics in many other countries that have also resorted to a lockdown.
In an effort to help victims of domestic and gender-based violence stay safe, the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA), with input from partner organisations, have created a practical, sharable tool that not only provides useful emergency and GBV support contacts, but also offers some real-world suggestions for being safer in domestic violence situations.
Sanja Bornman, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) says, "The gendered impact of COVID19, and the lockdown itself, cannot be ignored. We know that already untenable levels of domestic violence has increased even further during this time and those most at risk need practical step-by-step information on what to do to stay safe – that is exactly what this safety plan offers."
According to Chrislynn Moonieyan, Eastern Cape representative of the National Shelter Movement, the "GBV Safety Plan" is geared at helping victims of domestic abuse develop creative and personalised strategies to survive their unique, dangerous living conditions.
“Our hope is that victims of domestic violence find this to be a useful resource that gets them thinking about what would work in their own situation and also what they would need, in order to stay safe. For example, the plan reminds them to pack a bag with some spare clothes, necessary medications, and some cash, and if possible, a spare phone and any important documents (or copies). It also provides tips for identifying and reaching out to others for help and more,” says Moonieyan.
Kerryn Rehse, the Advocacy, Policy and Research Officer for women’s support organisation Mosaic adds, "It is vital that women confined with the perpetrator of violence be given options for safely reaching out to family, friends, social networks for help. And, similarly, for those social networks to be able to safely conduct regular check-ins. This safety planning tool gives great guidelines on how to do this.”
According to Bernadine Bachar, Western Cape representative of the NSM, “While being prepared is critical, there are support services in place to assist victims escaping abuse, whether they come prepared or not. Shelters, which remain in operation during the lockdown, will, for example, provide clothes, toiletries, and other basic requirements. If you or anyone you know is in need of a shelter for abused women, reach out to the National Shelter Movement South Africa or the Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement on Facebook. The "GBV Safety Plan" is also available for download here.”
During the lockdown, Mosaic social workers are offering telephonic psychosocial services to those experiencing domestic and intimate partner violence. They can be reached on 021 761 7585. In addition, 24-hour first responder services for Sexual Violence Cases remain operational in all Thuthuzela Care Centres. For those requiring some form of legal support related to violence during this period, can contact the LHR legal support hotline on 066 076 8845. The organisation is linked to a range of public interest law organisations that are ready to assist.
Bachar says that the NSM urgently wants to debunk any misinformation about the availability of GBV services, shelters in particular, during this period. “Although shelters are continuously admitting women and their children, there are still spaces available. Download the safety plan. All the contacts you need are there. Remember to take note of other support services that are also available. If it is a shelter you need, please reach out to us,” she says.
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