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Domestic violence: what to do

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If you are in an abusive relationship or a child in your care is being abused, you can take steps to protect yourself or the child by approaching the courts. The Domestic Violence Act gives victims of domestic violence the maximum protection the law can provide.

A step by step guide for victims of domestic violence:

1. The scene where abuse takes place

This could be the home of the complainant or a public or private space where an incident of abuse against the complainant takes place.

2. Reporting the abuse

  • A complainant reports a domestic violence matter to the local police station. Victims may also approach the court, traditional leaders, prosecutors, religious leaders, social workers and non-governmental organisations working in their area.
  • The police officer explains the procedure. The complainant has a choice to lodge a criminal case or application for a protection order, or both.
  • If necessary, police will take the complainant to the doctor to assess any injuries as a result of the abuse. The assessment will be detailed in a form and could be used as evidence.
  • After the assessment, the police officer refers the complainant to the local magistrate’s court to apply for a protection order.

3. The complainant is referred to the magistrate’s court

The clerk of the court will help the complainant complete an affidavit detailing the nature of the abuse.

  • The clerk of the court will open a file and record it. The complainant must keep the file number issued safe.

4. The magistrate considers the application

  • The magistrate looks at the contents of the application and determines if the information is correct in the presence of the complainant.
  • After careful consideration, the magistrate decides to issue an interim protection order and a date for a hearing.
  • A warrant of arrest, which can only be acted on if the respondent violates the conditions of the interim protection order, is authorised by the magistrate and handed to the applicant by the clerk of the court.

5. Interim protection order is served on the respondent

  • The interim protection order is served immediately by the police officer, sheriff or clerk of the court to the respondent. The date of the hearing will also be indicated.

6. Court proceedings

  • The magistrate will check whether both the complainant and respondent are present and start proceedings.
  • During the hearing both the complainant and respondent will have an opportunity to present their side of the story.
  • The magistrate will then make a decision on whether to issue a final protection order.
  • The complainant must be aware that the conditions of the final order may not be the same as those of the interim protection order.
  • The conditions contained in the final protection order are permanent and can only be changed by a court of law.

7. Consequences of violating a final protection order

  • If the final protection order is violated, the applicant must take the warrant of arrest and report the contravention to the police station.
  • The respondent will be arrested and charged for violation of a protection order and prosecuted in the criminal court. If the respondent is found guilty he/she can be sentenced to a fine/ imprisonment or both.
What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence relates to any conduct that is harmful, or may cause harm to the safety, health or well being of the complainant.

This could be as a result of the following:

  • physical abuse,
  • sexual abuse,
  • emotional, verbal and psychological abuse,
  • economic abuse,
  • intimidation,
  • harassment,
  • stalking or
  • damage to property.

It may also include trespassing or entry into the complainant’s residence without consent and any other controlling or abusive behaviour.

A domestic violence case can be opened against:

  • The person you are married to, whether by civil or customary rites.
  • Your partner (whether of the same or opposite sex) who lives or has lived with you.
  • The person you share parental responsibility with.
  • People related to you by blood ties, marriage or adoption.
  • The person you are engaged to, in a customary relationship with, or dating.
For more information contact: The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.  Postal Address: Private Bag X81 | www.justice.gov.za | Tel: 012 315 1111