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Fighting a Pandemic within a Pandemic

Ending the cycle of Gender Based Violence and Domestic Violence in Botshabelo

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Africa, our President was forced to put the country on a 21-day national lockdown. Unfortunately, in the first week of this lockdown about 87,000 cases of Gender-based Violence (GBV) and/or domestic violence (DV) were reported across South Africa. Then the lockdown lasted for many months.

But God put Setshabelo (Setshabelo Family and Child Services) in Botshabelo for a reason and they responded immediately. Working with South African Police Services (SAPS), they set up camp at the two police stations in this township of 250,000 people to partner and assist with GBV and DV cases. Setshabelo’s mission is safe and loving families for every child and GBV and DV are our greatest threats against children and safe, loving families.

One of our social workers, Ms Tselane Ramolahloane shares her journey.

As a social worker who works with GBV and domestic violence cases, I picked up that the police try by all means to give good service but they didn’t realise the necessity to give service with dignity and respect, especially for victims. The victims would be interviewed in the charge office where there was no privacy and other people would listen in to their issues – this would often lead to cases not being opened or ending up unsolved.

Once I joined their team, as a representative of Setshabelo, the officers knew to bring them straight to me so that they could get counselling in the VEP (Victim Empowerment Programme) office. The client/victim would leave understanding how they can get help with

their situation. This also gave me a chance to assess whether the client needed a place of safety or if they would be fine going back home. Their counselling session with me also helps the client have an idea of whether they want to open a case against the perpetrator or not.

This was not the norm. Before Setshabelo came into the picture the officer only focused on if they wanted to open a case (i.e. make a formal charge) or not. No one prioritised the victim’s safety. They would sometimes go home with the victim to ‘reprimand’ the husband for the violence but that would often lead to more violence against the victim once the police left.

Intervention methods that add value. Every situation is different but I usually counsel the victim and make sure to find a place of safety for them if there is a need. Once the victim is safe, the officers call in the perpetrator and I counsel him. It depends on the severity of the case, but couples with domestic violence issues usually want to work on them. We then have marriage counselling sessions. If children are involved I counsel them individually and refer them to our “You Only Live Once” (YOLO) youth empowerment programme. The intervention process is meant to help both the victim and the perpetrator. I evaluate the risk of sending the victim home with the perpetrator and go from there. Our intervention as Setshabelo is very intensive because we are in the boat with our clients: we take you to the hospital, take you to other referred services that we cannot offer, and if you do not want a shelter, we help you get to a family that can protect you. We also make sure that clients are empowered enough to lay criminal charges so the perpetrator can go to jail, and if needed we support them through this process.

The importance and value of our service is that we can properly take time to listen to victims and we have created a safe and private space where they can cry and yell and find healing.

Boithuso Police Station’s Domestic Violence coordinator, Constable Litabe says: “At the Boithuso Police Station, we would like to thank God for answering our prayers because we have struggled a long time trying to find what we are now proud to have because God works in his ways and in His time. We are proud to have Setshabelo in our police station. Our victims get the services they deserve quickly and the services are accessible to them. Setshabelo has made a difference in the lives of victims and perpetrators and we are expecting to see even greater things coming from this project. The plan is to heal our land and we can achieve this when we hold hands and share the work to make a difference in people’s lives. Forward we go.”

Changing lives. The VEP run by Setshabelo has changed so many lives. A family of five that I worked with on their healing is an example. This particular husband and wife have been married for 26 years, have three children and the wife only recalls two years of happiness and peace. This case came to our office because the wife had tried to commit suicide and once the health care workers at the hospital found out they called the police who tried to get her to open a case. But she refused and asked the officers to go reprimand him instead. So they sent her to my office.

The wife retells how violent her husband was and that it led her into depression. In our

Launch of VEP: SFCS Executive Director Keabetsoe Sekoboto with SAPS and Dept of Health officials

counselling sessions she opened up and told me that the abuse had also affected her children. They had become bitter and angry. The 21-year-old son beat up his father for abusing them and his mother so much that the father (her husband) was in the process of opening a case against his own son. This is when I called the children in and counselled them individually. In my sessions I found that the father would beat up the children as well – they grew up in violence and had hate towards their father. Their 25-year-old daughter dreamed of finding poison and killing her father. Counselling sessions helped the wife reconstruct her self-identity and life. I then helped the children too, and then I tackled the father. As the perpetrator he felt he was in the right and I realised it was because he grew up with an abusive father himself. For him this was “love.” We discussed his upbringing and he realised that he did not like what was happening to him and how his violence affected his family. I like telling my clients to share their imagined and ideal family with me. When he looked at his ideal family and his current family, he was sad. He realised he is living his father’s life. Then we had a family conference where he asked for forgiveness; his wife had already forgiven him, and his son and 23-year-old daughter were also able to forgive him.

All except the first-born daughter. She had also adopted violence towards her husband and her own family. She is struggling to find herself outside of the violence her father caused. Her marriage was also on the brink of collapse because of her violence and we are working on building her self-identity outside of her violent upbringing.

This family gives me confidence to know that the interventions we did worked. We had long sessions with them. It was an exhausting journey but we eventually got to where we needed to be and are still on the way with the first-born. As hard as it is, this work really is important and rewarding.

Ms Tselane Ramolahloane - Setshabelo Social Worker.

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