Accountability And The Danger Of Silence

PICTURE: Gender Links

It is because of the growing number of victims of violence, that we, as communities, can never be silent. Silence prohibits and restricts what needs to be addressed. We feel overwhelmed by the sheer increase in crime; it begins to feel bigger than us or anything we can do. We feel robbed of power – of being able to feel safe, autonomous or heard, writes JILL RYAN

We have no shortage of examples of heinous and violent crimes against South African women and children displayed via news outlets and shared online every day. So much so that online comments via Facebook and Twitter display public resignation, viewing this as being just another everyday experience – which may not be far from the truth.

In South Africa we’re no longer shocked that our child homicide rates are twice the global average; a child murdered every three days. South African femicide rates are five times the global rate; intimate partner violence is still the leading cause of female homicide. South Africa has seen an increase from 2014-2016 in murder and attempted murder rates, with Cape Town alone reaching a 40% increase in murder rates, double the murder rate of other South African cities.

This increased rates has placed four of South Africa’s cities within the top 50 most violent cities in the world; the united nations office on drugs and crime, placing South Africa in the top 10 countries with the highest homicide rates worldwide. Daily reports reflect these stats as a visceral, undeniable reality. Coupled with reports of government and NGOs (as seen in the Life Esidimeni case) accused of fraud, mismanaged resources and inadequate skills, public apathy and disinterest around gender-based violence (GBV) is perhaps unsurprising.

Yet campaigns such as Count me in; Don’t look away and MeToo are all appeals to the public to acknowledge GBV, to acknowledge the victims and survivors of abuse and to report incidences of abuse. Too often victims of violence are met with cynicism and victim shaming. Questions like “Why did you stay?” or “Why didn’t you report it sooner?” begin to condition our empathy.

We really should reflect as a society. Do our actions encourage victims of violence to speak out? Are they supported when disclosure happens? What do we do when we realise GBV is taking place? Too often we are embroiled in a “not-my-business” mentality, and this causes serious harm, especially in the case of children.

Victims often feel stigmatised and revictimized when opening a case or even when going to trial. They are expected to ‘convince’ judicial duty bearers that violence, let alone rape, has occurred. Victims are further met with added scepticism if no physical injury or visible trauma is seen. So has the judicial system in its entirety evolved to adequately respond to the survivor of violence? With every 100 cases of rape reported, only 7 reach conviction – and this is worrying.

At a national level there is a clear need for an integrated strategic framework for violence. This framework should co-ordinate resources and stakeholder responses, and harness political will in directing efforts towards violence prevention. This can ensure multi-sectoral resources and expertise are pooled towards community based activities directed towards violence prevention. An integrated framework could co-ordinate all violence prevention activities with specific objectives and promote multi sector collaboration.

Collaboration would prevent overlap in services and inappropriate resource allocation, and provide a holistic response to families and victims of violence. But the process in establishing such a framework has been intermittent since 2012, with inadequate consultation undertaken with civil society, deepening mistrust at a time when collaboration is a must. In the wake of growing rates of violence, we cannot lay this at the feet of only one sector, one department, particular communities, or the victim alone. It is not up to certain individuals to make this right, but rather all of us.

The tangible reality of violence means we cannot afford to simply look away.

It is because of the growing number of victims of violence, that we, as communities, can never be silent. Silence prohibits and restricts what needs to be addressed. We feel overwhelmed by the sheer increase in crime; it begins to feel bigger than us or anything we can do. We feel robbed of power – of being able to feel safe, autonomous or heard.

Silence is an enabler of unequal power. When we are silent, gender-based violence compounds, stigmatisation and discrimination continue, and victimisation is perpetuated. When we are silent, we have truly robbed ourselves of power.

What can we do:

  • Contact the Gender Based Violence Command Centre which has a 24/7 call centre facility – 0800 428 428 [0800 GBV GBV] or alternatively use the ‘Please call me’ facility *120*7867#; SMS Help to 31531. The command centre uses mobile technology to estimate the location of a victim, assign the closest social worker in the field to the case, and record and receive continuous feedback on the case. The Centre is also staffed by trained social workers/command centre agents who provide immediate counselling to victims and help them to avoid or minimise further exposure to gender-based violence. When a caller contacts the GBVCC from a mobile phone, they are (with explicit permission) geographically located, enabling the Centre to determine the resources nearest to the caller, whether it be a social worker, a police station, a hospital or safe house; facilitating a swift response.

  • Join a community police forum (CPF). CPFs are organisations and institutions such as schools, ratepayers associations, civic organisations, businesses and religious institutions, working in partnership with the local police. CPF’s create community safety plans based on the priorities and needs for the community. These needs and priorities are identified by the community through the CPF, and form part of the local police station’s operational plan. CPFs can form their own safety projects and apply for provincial government funding to fund them.

  • Engage your local community development worker (CDW) around specific government programmes or services useful to the community. CDWs assist communities in easily accessing public services and thus improve service delivery. They support and facilitate community development, especially in improving and strengthening interaction between communities and government. CDWs also work closely with ward councillors and ward committees.

  • If victims of violence disclose incidents, support and encourage them to seek immediate assistance. If child neglect, maltreatment or sexual assault is suspected; you can contact a designated child protection organisation, the provincial department of social development or the police.

  • Volunteer at an NGO or community-based organization (CBO) which deals with GBV. Due to unstable funding and limited human resources, volunteers are much needed.

  • Lastly, it is for police, government and other duty bearers, to reciprocate the efforts of the public in addressing GBV. It would be a pointless feat to encourage victims to speak out, when victims are met with apathy and indifference when reporting GBV or calling on impartial legislation to facilitate violence reducing strategies.

Ryan is a doctoral student of the Child and Family Studies Programme at the University of the Western Cape, with a focus on family-centered interventions for family violence. She has published in areas such as family functioning, family-centered intervention research, sex offender recidivism and domestic violence. Jill has a counselling background in domestic violence.