Recognised as a serious social evil, there is a high incidence of domestic violence within South African society.
Domestic violence takes on many forms and may be committed in a wide range of domestic relationships. Victims are among the most vulnerable members of society.
Having regard to the constitutionally entrenched rights to equality, and to freedom and security of the person, and of the Republic’s obligations under United Nations conventions, Parliament enacted the Domestic Violence Act 1998.
A ‘domestic relationship’ means anything from marriage to family membership, from mere boy/girl dating to even sharing the same residence.
Domestic violence means:
- physical abuse;
- sexual abuse;
- emotional, verbal and psychological abuse – including degrading or humiliating conduct such as repeated insults, ridicule or name-calling; threats of emotional pain; and, even obsessive possessiveness or jealousy;
- economic abuse – including the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources, and the unreasonable disposal of household effects in which the other has an interest;1
- harassment – including repeatedly watching; repeatedly loitering near where the complainant resides, works, studies or happens to be; repeatedly making or causing telephone calls; and repeatedly sending mail or other objects;
- damage to property;
- entry into someone’s residence without consent; or
- any other controlling, or abusive behaviour which may cause harm to someone’s safety, health or well-being.
Any person who is, or has been in a domestic relationship and is subjected to domestic violence may obtain a protection order from a Magistrate’s Court. Such an order may include prohibitions on violence, and other conditions to protect the safety and well-being of the complainant. The court can also impose obligations for the payment of rent, emergency monetary relief, etc.2 It is an offence to disobey any provision of such an order.3
Whenever a court issues a protection order, it must also authorise a warrant for the person’s arrest, but suspend its execution subject to his compliance with the order. If the person contravenes any prohibition, condition or obligation in a protection order, the complainant can hand the warrant, together with an affidavit setting out the facts about the non-compliance, to any member of the police so that the arrest can be actioned. It is a criminal offence for the complainant to make any false statement in that affidavit.4
The court proceedings concerning domestic violence and protection orders have restrictions on public access. Only certain people – the parties, legal representatives, and a support group may be present. It is a crime to publish any information which might reveal the identity of any party to the proceedings.5
The court itself may direct that any other information must not be published. It is a crime to disobey this order.6