“To afford the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from domestic abuse that the law can provide” (Preamble to the Domestic Violence Act)
A recent SCA (Supreme Court of Appeal) decision underlines the very strong duty on SAPS members to assist victims of domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Act (“domestic violence” isn’t limited to cases of physical harm – it includes a very wide range of abusive conduct) provides legal protection to victims, especially to those most vulnerable such as women, children, disabled people and the elderly. If you are a victim (or helping a victim) the Police are obliged to assist and cannot shirk their responsibilities. You should in appropriate cases lay criminal charges and/or apply for a protection order. Police officers attending to domestic violence cases must help victims to lay criminal charges, find shelter and obtain medical treatment where necessary.
Applying for a protection order
Go to your nearest Magistrates Court and ask for assistance. If an order is granted, the issue of a warrant of arrest is authorised at the same time. The warrant is suspended on condition that there is no breach of the terms of the protection order. To have the warrant executed, you will need to give details of any violation of the order on affidavit – be aware that you will both face criminal charges and risk a damages claim if you intentionally make any false allegations.
Police must pay for victimising a victim
The facts of the case before the SCA were these –
Hospitalised after being assaulted by her ex-husband, a woman tried to lay an assault charge at her local police station.
There she was (wrongly) told that she had to get a protection order first, but when the magistrate’s court confirmed that a protection order is not a prerequisite to laying criminal charges, she returned to the police station.
Her ex-husband was called to the station and they were told to discuss an amicable resolution. When this failed, both made statements and laid charges against each other. Both were arrested, charged and detained overnight. The woman was injured next morning when an officer forcibly flung her into a police van to take her to court.
Finding that the police had acted negligently towards the victim, had subjected her to secondary victimisation and had, by not assisting her, exacerbated her sense of vulnerability, the Court awarded her damages of R280,000.