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Women and children’s shelter overwhelmed by levels of abuse

One in three children experience sexual abuse before they turn 18 and a woman is killed every four hours in South Africa. These rates of violence are the focus of the 16 Days of Activism campaign, which runs from 25 November to 10 December. At a panel discussion held on 30 November, the Saartjie Baartman Centre, a non-profit centre for abused women and their children, said that the prevalence of abuse and violence is overwhelming.

With 66 child murders reported in the Western Cape alone, 2017 has been a year marked by reminders that the most vulnerable members of society are too often left unprotected; “We know that the persecutors are often in the family, or known to them. We know that mothers are often victims of abuse themselves, and struggle to protect their children within violence-riddled communities,” says Dorothea Gertse, head social worker and shelter manager at the Manenberg based Centre.

Speaking at the discussion, Lucy Jamieson, a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute said that many children in South Africa experience complex, continuous traumatic stress, without adequate support systems to aid recovery. “Intergenerational trauma, where parents have themselves been victims of violence, neglect or abuse, reduces the chances of creating an environment that is conducive to recovery for both mother and child.”

A study released earlier in the week by the Children’s Institute found that when it comes to violence within the home, the child protection system in South Africa is failing. “Practitioners fail to identify children at risk and manage cases poorly. Too few children and families have access to therapeutic care and support,” Jamieson says.

Gertse highlighted delays in responses to reports of child abuse; “It can take up to six months before the authorities intervene – and many tragic things can happen in that period.”

Both panellists called for improved systems for early intervention, quicker responses to report of abuse and more collaboration between the professionals and agencies involved in child protection. Gertse added that to really see a difference, there needs to be deep societal change; “Many of the belief structures around sex, power and relationships must be undone. There needs to be zero tolerance – those who commit violence and those responsible for intervening in it must be held accountable, at all levels of society.”

Established 18-years ago, the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children has assisted more than 190 000 victims of crime and violence. It is the only shelter to accept boys up to the age of 18 who are accompanied by their mother. The Centre works to protect and assist victims of abuse and violent crimes. They offer services such as crisis response, counselling, job skills training and childcare.

Stats on abuse and violence, verified by Africa Check:
• A woman is killed every four hours in South Africa – some research suggests that around half of these are killed by intimate partners (though a lack of police reporting specifically on intimate partner violence makes this difficult to ascertain).
• 35% (1 in 3) of school-age children report having experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime – this statistic is lower when the same age group is interviewed at home (as opposed to school).
• Both girls and boys report high rates of sexual abuse – girls are slightly more likely to report it to police.
• Sixty-six child murders have been reported in the Western Cape this year, including the brutal killings of young girls Courtney Pieters, Iyapha Yamile, Lindokuhle Kota, Rene Roman, Cleo de Bryn, Shaynice Talla and Cameron Britz.
• Crime stats for 2016/2017 showed a decrease in rapes reported (all age groups) – though there is no way of calculating how many are underreported, and police negligence in these cases has long received criticism. We have no conclusive data concerning rape rates in South Africa.
• 82% of children report experiencing some form of victimisation (whether criminal victimisation or exposure to family or community violence). By and large, girls and urban dwellers are more likely to report these experiences than boys and those living in rural areas.

ENDS
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Distributed by Be-cause Integrated Communications
Emma Proctor
emma@be-cause.co.za
021 447 1082 / 072 930 4412

On behalf of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children
Director: Shaheema McLeod

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