Abused women don’t get much help from Cape Town cops

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Abused women have to face “desensitised” Western Cape police officers who “just throw a woman in the back of a van” or refuse them protection.

These were among accusations leveled at the provincial police at a public meeting about violence against women yesterday. The provincial police meanwhile said its officers were trained to deal with domestic violence.

Yesterday’s meeting was called to unpack the findings of a research report ‘Shelters Housing Women Who Have Experienced Abuse’.

The report was researched and published by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and the Tswanarang Legal Advocacy Centre. It was released yesterday.

Researchers found a host of shortcomings at provincial police stations when it comes to responding to calls from abused women. Tshwaranang’s Dianne Massawe, one of the report’s authors, said they made phoned calls to 147 provincial police stations to find protection from domestic violence.

Of this, they found that 41% of police officers that answered the call “did not know where to refer caller”.

The researchers also asked police officers if they knew where an abused woman could get help or shelter from an abusive partner.

They found that “only 7% knew of a location but not name or contact number”. Of this seven percent, “12% refused to refer the caller to a shelter service”.

“Three police officers said they couldn’t reveal the location or name of shelter. One of these said that they would first visit the abused woman’s home to determine whether she was in danger before referring her to shelter,” said Massawe.

“Others requested that the victim present herself at station. Reasons for this was that it was standard practice or the victim needed to first needed to lay a change or apply for a protection order before she could be helped to a shelter.”

Other research findings included “telephones were not answered at 15 police stations which had faulty lines or the call was disconnected”.

“Researchers were also hung-up on two occasions, were informed that the police don’t help anonymous people, and informed that social workers are better placed to help (abused women) than the police are,” said Massawe.

Linda Fugard, manager of the Sisters Incorporated shelter for abused women, said the “police need training” to deal with domestic violence.

“We need to get to a better level of working with the police. All our police stations need a database of shelters. We know that policemen’s wives also come to shelters,” said Fugard.

“Sometimes the police don’t even phone shelters. They just throw a woman in the back of a van and drop them off at a police station.”

Diane Stratton, who offers support for abused women at Bothasig police station, said some police officers “are shoving off the problem”.

“Some police officers are empathetic to the women. But they are also desensitised and they don’t think of all the other avenues for the women. Police don’t have time to sit with a crying woman,” said Stratton.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut, spokesman for the Western Cape police, said they were “not in a position to respond to allegations before an investigation has been lodge to substantiate the facts”.

He added: “All our members are trained to deal with victims of crime, and crime against women and children are high on our priority list.”

The Western Cape has only 17 shelters for abused women and the report found that all shelters are struggling financially.

It also found that various women who come to shelters need help with a range of illnesses such depression, substance abuse, injuries from abuse and are suicidal and HIV-positive.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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