Abuse victims afraid to speak out

Police Minister Bheki Cele says the deployment of the police and the army in communities during the lockdown has seen crime drop.

Domestic violence hasn’t disappeared under lockdown, it’s just become more terrifying, says a Plumstead councillor who helps victims of this crime.

Police Minister Bheki Cele announced last week that domestic violence cases – along with murders, rapes and assaults – had plummeted because of lockdown.

But Tracy Linde from Plumstead, who runs the NPO Enough Is Enough for child abuse and rape victims, says women and children are still be abused and sexually assaulted during lockdown, they’re just finding it harder to report it.

Minister Cele attributes the drop in national crime stats to greater police visibility, the army deployment and bans on liquor and cigarettes.

The latest crime data, comparing stats from March 29 to April 22 last year compared with March 27 to April 20 this year, shows rapes are down 87%, from 2 908 to 371; murders are down 72%, from
1 542 to 432, attempted murders are down 66%, from 1 300 to 443; and aggravated assaults are down 85%, from 11 876 to 1 758.

And, according to Minister Cele, domestic-violence-related crimes – which include murder, attempted murder, rape, sexual assault and other crimes- are down 69,4% from 9 990 to 3 061 cases.

Wynberg police spokesman Captain Silvino Davids said no domestic-violence cases had been reported to the station during lockdown and there had also been a drop in people seeking protection orders from the court.

Assault was also down, he said, attributing that to the alcohol ban. However, the station had seen a rise in business robberies.

Ms Linde, a trained counsellor with an honours diploma in gender-based violence, believes the statistics give a skewed picture of what is really happening.

She says domestic-violence victims are finding it harder to get away from abusive family members or partners due to the lockdown.

“In some areas they get threatened by police or the army (for being outside) before they’re even given the chance to report the matter.”

With less public transport, she says, some victims have no way to get to a police station for help; others are reluctant to report abuse fearing it will only make the abusers they’re confined with more violent.

Ms Linde says she has heard children saying their families are angry because they can’t drink or smoke. The children are getting shouted at and hit more, she says.

“Help lines are very much busy, I would say even more busy then before lockdown as the victims can’t get away from the abuser, and with less or no income, it has made it worse, and they don’t know how much more they can deal with.”

Earlier this month, Minister Cele announced at a press conference in Pretoria that SAPS had received 87 000 gender-based violence calls during the first week of lockdown.

Crime statistics only reflect reported cases.

Women’s shelter’s across the country have now formed a gender-based violence safety plan for Covid-19 lockdown. It gives victims numbers for helplines and shelters and advice on how to get away from an abusive partner (pack a bag with spare clothes, necessary medications, money, a spare phone if possible and any important documents); how to keep evidence; and how to apply for a protection order.

Visit the National Shelter Movement of South Africa’s website at www.nsmsa.org.za or its social media pages to find the safety plan.

Useful contacts include the Gender Based Violence Command Centre at 0800 428 428; Lifeline’s Domestic Violence Helpline at 0800 150 150; and Mosaic, which provides phone counselling and referrals for survivors of abuse, at 021 761 7585.