In recognition of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, which runs from 25 November to 1 December, the Centre has spoken out about the way the criminal justice system deals with acts of violence within families and intimate relationships.
Rates of violence in South Africa remain alarmingly and unacceptably high; “This isn’t a problem that should get our attention only sixteen days out of 365 – it’s a crisis all year round,” says Director of the Centre, Shaheema McLeod.
“South Africa has some of the toughest laws on domestic abuse in the world, however it is a country marred by high levels of violence – both within homes and outside of them,” says McLeod.
A culture of gender-based violence prevails, resulting in poor support structures, low conviction rates and even lower numbers of victims confident enough in the legal system to come forward.
Organisations like the Saartjie Baartman Centre, who work to protect, educate and assist the victims of these crimes, are struggling to cope.
Contributing to the difficulty of intervention is that domestic violence incidents are not reported in crime statistic reports. No category exists to differentiate sexual assault, battery or murder committed by an intimate partner versus an unknown attacker.
Meaning that there is little information on the extent of the problem – or where resources most need to go.
“Campaigns such as 16 Days of Activism create awareness around abuse, however, to really see a difference, we need to change the culture that silences violence within the family unit. The police and legal system has a duty to support and not shame victims of abuse,” says McLeod.
Established 17-years ago, the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children has assisted more than 180 000 victims of crime and violence. Situated on the Cape Flats, an area with one of the highest crime and unemployment rates in Cape Town, the Centre houses an average of 100 women and children at a time.
Although the Centre predominantly serves its surrounding areas, McLeod stresses that violence against women and children occurs in all socio-economic and demographic groups.