Many women fear further harm or victimisation if they report cases to a police station, choosing silence over justice. This is as the number of gender-based violence cases continues to rise in the country. However, those reported to police are a far cry from the actual amount.

As the gender-based violence pandemic continues to grip the country, victims and survivors still feel more needs to be done to create safer spaces to report crimes against them and get assistance. Thando (not her real name) suffered at the hands of an abusive partner.

“It was hard for me to leave my relationship. The first person I thought about was my child, being subjected to one parent. I realized if I stayed in this relationship, I’m going to be a statistic and I’d end up being dead. You’ve seen a lot of women leave their relationships in coffins and I didn’t want to subject my child to such trauma so I decided to leave the relationship. So the time I was beaten, I went and opened a case at the nearest police station and my experience there was very bad,” says Thando.

Thando says she was ridiculed by a female police officer and left without opening a case, this while bleeding.

“I asked for a female cop, and was I told I provoked my boyfriend by going through his phone and that I deserved the beating,” adds Thando.

However, after receiving medical treatment and counselling for both her and her child, she says she could not let the perpetrator, a man she once loved; continue life without paying for his sins.

“When we got there at the police station we still got the same treatment. We found police officers playing games on their phones and they were not even paying attention to us. As soon as the gentleman from the teddy bear clinic said who he was, that’s when they actually raised their hands and paid attention. That for me just said, women, we are in trouble. When you go to the police station, no one is going to assist you. No one is going to listen to you. Instead, you are going to get secondary victimization.”

Shaaida Omar from the Teddy Bear Clinic, says what Thando and many others encounter at police stations, is the reason why many suffer in silence.

“Women are usually reluctant to report cases of GBV or rape because of the kind of response or reception they receive at the police station. The law enforcement officers often scoff at the victims or turn them away or treat them quite shabbily where they feel humiliated, ridiculed and quite embarrassed,” adds Omar.

Omar says law enforcement needs to be better equipped to deal with gender-based violence cases.

“Police officers are not often equipped to receive GBV cases. they need to receive specialized training,” says Omar.

Vincentia Dlamini from Women and Men against Abuse says the victims and survivors are often gripped by fear.

“When they open the cases, they often fear for their lives. Even if they get a protection order, it does not stop the actual abuse from happening. Sometimes the families do not want the women to come back home when they are in abusive relationships. And also financial dependency, sometimes they are thinking about their children,” says Dlamini.

Nhlanhla Lux from Soweto Parliament says those that find the courage to open the case, are not even awarded the comfort and privacy to do so.

“We need to change infrastructure at police stations. We report all cases in the same place. It’s not a personal thing. I know some police stations have separate rooms, but we need that priority when someone walks in to open a rape case, they must not go to the benches and sit with everyone else, and there must be a special desk for women when they go in as victims of rape and GBV. We need a lot of emotional intelligence and that soft touch,” says Lux.

For more victims to receive assistance as well as some form of justice – there needs to be safer spaces for women to report cases.

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