What Should You Do If You Experience Gender-Based Violence in South Africa?
Some important steps that South Africans can follow after experiencing gender-based violence.
In recent years South Africa has been brought to a standstill more than once because of the country’s cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide.
One of the most renowned cases that has shaken the country in recent years was that of University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, whose murder sparked national outrage and brought about protests in 2019 calling for violence against women to come to an end.
Since then, President Cyril Ramaphosa has implemented a dedicated budget towards eradicating GBV in the country, assigned a special task team to help fight against these crimes, and introduced three bills to parliament aimed at bringing violence against women and other vulnerable people to an end.
While these measures are promising, GBV is still ongoing and many South Africans will unfortunately experience gender-based or intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
According to Mail & Guardian, it is estimated that 51% of South African women report experiencing gender-based violence at least once in their lives, while 76% of men admit to perpetrating violence against women.
These numbers do not include sexual harassment or cases of femicide in the country.
As South Africa waits on the new GBV bills to be implemented (which you can read more about here) women will continue to experience acts of violence towards them. While there is no sure way to prevent GBV, it is essential to know what to do in the case that it does occur.
Based on the advice of experts and organisations that support survivors of GBV, here are some important steps that you can take if you do experience GBV.
Immediate actions to take if you’ve just experienced gender-based violence
The most important thing is to be patient with yourself and try not to feel pressured to do anything you are uncomfortable with. Experiencing any form of GBV can result in trauma, and it is essential that you take care of yourself before you decide to do anything else.
Here are three key things to consider if you’ve recently experienced assault or abuse:
- If you are in immediate danger or are seriously hurt, contact the South African Police Service (SAPS) for urgent assistance. Not only should the police be able to pursue the case, they can also connect you to a medical professional and a trained counsellor if you require one.
- Get yourself to a safe place and out of danger as soon as you can. If you cannot do this yourself, consider reaching out to someone you trust who can assist and support you.
- Consider receiving immediate medical assistance from a hospital or clinic to make sure that you have not been seriously injured and, if needed, to conduct a sexual assault forensics exam. Hospitals and clinics can also help you report the case if that is something that you wish to do.
For urgent counselling services you can reach out to the national Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC), a 24-hour call centre established by the Department of Social Development, that offers immediate trauma counselling and assistance. The GBVCC can also reach out to the SAPS on your behalf and put you in contact with a social worker.
You can contact the GBVCC on 0800 428 428 from anywhere in South Africa, or use their “Please Call Me” option to get them to call you back by dialling *120*7867# on your cell phone.
Who you can talk to
As opening up about an assault is a difficult and emotional process, consider reaching out to people you trust; this can range from family members, to colleagues, or even to a close neighbour to help you through the incident. Receiving the support of someone you already trust is an important reminder that you are not alone, and can be helpful when it comes to taking other forms of action.
Once you have reached out to someone you trust, you can then consider further counselling options as well as legal actions to take if you want to.
There are many national organisations and programmes that offer both legal and emotional counselling services for those who have experienced any form of GBV.
- People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) is a national organisation that provides counselling over the phone and in person.
- Lawyers Against Abuse is a nonprofit organisation that helps survivors consider and pursue their legal options in cases of GBV.
- Sonke Gender Justice is a national gender advocacy organisation aimed at achieving gender equality nationally and preventing GBV.
- Safer Spaces is an organisation that stands against crime and aims to prevent violence. It has compiled a national directory that survivors and others who may need assistance can refer to in the case of any violence that takes place in the country.
If you do not have the resources to reach out to these organisations, you can also consider talking to someone that works at your local community centre. These centres often have contacts for social workers and counselling programmes that they can put you in touch with.
Where you can go
If you have no place to turn to and there is nobody around that you trust to support you, then consider reaching out to a shelter. There are many shelters for women and children who have experienced abuse across the country. A number of these shelters offer more resources than refuge for victims of GBV, they are safe places where women are able to find empowerment and regain self worth.
Many of these shelters offer a safe environment to heal and provide free counselling, housing for women and their children, and free meals for the duration of their stay. To help you get back on your feet, some shelters also offer career counselling, skills training programmes, referrals to workplaces for you to acquire employment, and free legal assistance.
In Gauteng you can reach out to:
In the Western Cape you can reach out to:
In KwaZulu-Natal you can reach out to:
South African girls and women deserve to live without fear of gender-based violence. If you or someone you know has experienced gender-based or sexual violence, you can find resources for support here or you can call the SA National GBV helpline on 0800 150 150.