Breaking the cycle of abuse

26 November 2013

Phumla WilliamsFour months ago the battered body of a young boy Siphosihle was found close to the railway line in the Hlongwane Section in Ekurhuleni. The five-year-old boy had been beaten to death. His body showed signs of longstanding abuse; there were cigarette burns on his stomach and evidence of a broken rib that had healed.

It was only after his identikit appeared in a local newspaper that he was recognised and police were able to close in on the perpetrators of the heinous crime. Siphosihle’s story is one of neglect and abuse that is sadly an all too common occurrence.

However, it could have ended differently for him had someone in his community reacted early to the tell-tale signs of abuse. Every incident of abuse suffered by a child or woman reflects our failure to respond to the cries of the most vulnerable in our midst.

While we rightly express our shock, condemnation and disbelief at these atrocious crimes, there is a desperate need for early action. It is in our power and within our means, even in the smallest of ways, to contribute to the fight against the abuse of women and children.

It could be your actions today that help break the cycle of violence and abuse that many women and children experience. We must no longer allow violence and abuse to be treated as a matter that belongs behind closed doors.

It is a crime and must be reported to the police so that victims can be helped and perpetrators can be brought to book.

Police are succeeding in swiftly apprehending persons guilty of raping and murdering women and children. The justice system is dealing with offenders and meting out harsh sentences.

Earlier this month Johannes Kana was handed down a double life sentence for the rape and murder of 17 year old Anene Booysen. “Birthday Rapist” Mlungisa Mtshali was sentenced to 39 life terms for 39 rapes. Johan Kotze described as the “Modimolle Monster”, who instigated the gang-rape of Ina Bonnette and killed her son, received two life sentences in July.

The government is doing all it can to fight child and women abuse. We introduced the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign to conscientize South Africans of the unacceptably high levels violence and abuse against women and children.

It is through these awareness and education initiatives that we endeavour to overcome the devastating effects of our violent history under apartheid where force was seen as a legitimate means of resolving social, political and even domestic conflicts.

We also put measures in place to ensure better conviction rates and to help reduce the number of unreported sexual crimes. We reintroduced the Sexual Offence Courts to deal decisively with sexual violence against women and children.

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe, said: "We have seen a rise in sexual violence against women and children and we cannot remain unmoved as government, but we can take steps to ensure that all those perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book and this is one of the ways of dealing with it."

Cases that come before the court are treated with sensitivity so victims do no experience secondary victimisation.

Our fight against women and child abuse was further strengthened last year with the re-introduction of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units. The units have secured over 363 life sentences, with a conviction rate of 73 per cent for crimes against women above 18 years of age and 70 per cent for crimes against children under 18.

Through these initiatives, the government is building a victim-centred criminal justice system.

Moreover, our Thuthuzela Care Centres situated in hospitals are one-stop facilities that provide rape victims with the necessary care, treatment and support. The government increased the number of the centres from 17 in 2008 to 52 in 2012.

Last year government established a high-level Inter-Ministerial Committee on Violence against Women and Children to intensify its efforts. The committee is focused on preventing violence against women and children, holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, and ensuring that women and children who experience violence receive support.

All the measures we put in place are backed by progressive legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act; the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act and Equality Act.

These initiatives can only be effective if they are translated into action and government needs victims and communities to come forward so that perpetrators can be prosecuted.

Violence and abuse against women and children do not only affect the victim, but it also scars an entire community. The onus of reporting violence and abuse is not on victim alone; it falls upon all of us as these incidents often taken place within our homes and communities.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)