The Athlone police station has established a domestic-violence help desk.
Staffed by police officers and trauma counsellors, it makes it possible for victims of domestic violence to lay charge, apply for a protection order or get other help without having to queue in the charge office.
The project, called Women In Conflict With The Law, was launched on Tuesday March 15 after representatives from the Callas Foundation, the Athlone Community Police Forum (CPF), the Athlone SAPS, community leaders and others attended a workshop – the first in a series – in the police station’s hall.
The workshops will run for four weeks giving instruction on how to support victims of domestic violence including those who lay a charge at the station and receive counselling there. Some victims will be referred to the Callas Foundation in Bridgetown for further counselling.
The foundation will follow up the case and liaise with investigators while briefing the victim and preparing them for court.
Carol Peters, founder of the Callas Foundation, said the victims needed lots of support as the judicial system was very slow and victims often lost interest and withdrew their cases.
Some women battled to leave an abusive partner for many reasons, including financial dependency, hope for change, and having nowhere else to go, she said.
“We also refer our victims to safe homes if they need one as we know that she is not 100% safe even though she has a protection order. We’ve become a safety net for women in this area. When a woman is in danger, we create a safety plan with her for her to leave the house because she can’t just do it without a plan.“
Athlone CPF chairwoman Sharon Classen said they had seen a 30-to-40% increase in domestic violence cases in the community over the past six months.
Women often withdrew cases and did not want to attend court proceedings, and police had no choice but to withdraw the charge if the victim requested it, she said, adding that it was important for the victims’ healing to speak about what they had endured.
“We are very happy to form the partnership and excited about the project. We want to turn the image of the station around and leave victims feeling empowered.We also really need more volunteers. How do we get men to volunteer?”
Athlone police station spokeswoman Sergeant Zita Norman said domestic violence was not only about physical abuse but also included mental, financial, and narcissistic abuse.
“These workshops are for victims, religious fraternities, and everyone who wants to learn about domestic violence. Many women’s lives are being taken, and many of them murdered. We don’t want women to suffer in silence anymore. Come forward and report it and do not withdraw it. This is serious and we don’t take it likely. The protection order protects you until the day you die. Do not withdraw it, he will learn to respect it,” she said.
Member of parliament for the greater Athlone constituency Faiez Jacobs said he wanted to ensure that police stations had what they needed to support victims of violence. Perpetrators should be reported, women should have safe spaces, and the police should be sympathetic and supportive toward victims, he said.
“I want to encourage all men to not abuse women,“ he said. ”Women are our equals, our partners at home and in the workplace. We want to move away from being victims to being survivors.“