The law protects victims of domestic violence

The law protects victims of domestic violence
The law protects victims of domestic violence

So much has been said and written about domestic violence in the past month but what does the law do to protect victims of abuse?

The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act was assented to on May 14 last year and commenced on June 4 of the same year.

It is meant for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence. It protects a “spouse and any children or other dependent persons”.

The law defines domestic violence as violence against a person, or a threat of violence or imminent danger by someone who that person is in or has been in a domestic relationship with. Domestic relationships are marriages, relationships between divorced couples, people who live together, and people who were in marriages that have been dissolved or declared null and void. Family members and people engaged to be married are also in a domestic relationship. This relationship includes someone you have a child with and any person you have a close personal relationship with.

Section 4(4) states that for a Resident Magistrate Court to determine what a close personal relationship is, it should consider the nature and intensity of the relationship; the amount of time these people spend together; the places where they spend time together; the way this time is spent; and the duration of the relationship.

The other definitions of domestic violence in the act include physical abuse, child marriage, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced wife inheritance, interference from in-laws, sexual violence within marriage, virginity testing and widow cleansing.

If your partner or spouse damages your property, defiles your children and causes you emotional or psychological abuse he or she is subjecting you to domestic violence.

Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse is “a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct” towards a partner and includes repeated insults, ridicule, name-calling and threats to cause emotional pain.

Most women complain about spouses who do not provide for them and their children financially. Some of them take their grievances to their families and the children’s court. Now the Protection Against Domestic Violence has a provision for economic abuse.

Economic abuse happens when one is deprived of money that she is entitled to or needs. This includes money for household items, medical expenses, rent and mortgage payments. If your partner stops you from seeking employment or starting a business, he is causing you economic abuse.

Harassment is also domestic violence. If someone watches or loiters around a building you live in, work in or study in, they are harassing you. If they make repeated unwanted contact or attempt to contact you via post, telephone or any other electronic means they are harassing you. It does not matter whether or not you engaged in conversation with them. If someone sends you offensive or abusive documents they are also harassing you.

The law provides remedies for all these forms of violence.

First it highlights the duties of police officers in relation to domestic violence. When you go to the police, they should inform you of all the options you have to protect yourself against an abusive person. These options include access to shelter and medical assistance. They should also tell you how to get protection under the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act and how to lodge a criminal complaint against the perpetrator.

Section 7 allows anyone who suspects that domestic violence is happening to a relative, neighbour or any other person to go to the police and inform them. It guarantees that no action will be taken by the police against the person giving the information unless the information is false or malicious. Also any information that may identify the person who told the police about the domestic violence will not be revealed.

Victims of abuse can apply to the court for a protection order against the perpetrator. A child may make the application through a parent or guardian; a children officer; the director of children’s services; a police officer; a probation officer; a social welfare officer; a person acting on behalf of a religious institution or an NGO concerned with the welfare of domestic violence victims; a relative; or a neighbour.

The court will grant the order if it is satisfied that there was abuse and the order is necessary for the protection of the victim.

If the abuser disobeys the court order he or she may be arrested with or without a warrant. In making the arrest, a police officer will consider the safety of the victim, the seriousness of the abuser’s breach, and the time that has passed since the abuser committed the breach.

Aside from getting a protection order, a victim has the right to lodge a criminal case against the abuser. He or she can also claim compensation for any loss or injury caused by the domestic violence.

A resident magistrate can also direct the victim and the abuser to go for counselling or participate in a programme that allows for reconciliation. The counselling is aimed at ensuring the perpetrator respects the laws that prohibit domestic violence. It also seeks to create a safe environment for the victim and promote a harmonious relationship between the abuser and the victim.

The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act also regulates how the media reports on cases of domestic violence. Section 31 has restrictions on reporting. It prohibits the publication or broadcasting of information that may identify the venue of the court, the identity of the victim “or any other person in the proceedings either as a party to the proceedings or as a witness in the proceedings”. It also prohibits newspapers and TV stations from publishing and broadcasting pictures of a victim or any other person in domestic violence proceedings.

The act also states that a publication of court proceedings made under its provisions can only be done 30 days after the final determination of the case.

SIDE BAR: Domestic violence at a glance

Domestic violence includes:

Sexual violence within marriage

Physical abuse

Interference from in-laws

Emotional and psychological abuse

Economic abuse

Verbal abuse





Contents of a protection order

* The court may order the abuser to:

* Stop physically or sexually abusing the victim

* Stop threatening to abuse the victim

* Stop damaging or threatening to damage the victim’s property

* Stop intimidating or harassing the victim

* Stop stalking the victim

* Stop engaging or threatening to engage in cultural or customary rites and practices that abuse the victim

* Pay all expenses or emergency fees in respect to the victim’s needs or those of a child and a dependent

Things the court considers before making an order for compensation

* The pain and suffering of the victim and the nature and extent of the physical or mental injury suffered

* The cost of medical treatment for such injuries

* Any loss of earnings that arose due to the abuse

* The amount or value of property taken, destroyed or damaged

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