On 14 April 2023, the Domestic Violence Amendment Act, 2021 (DVAA) came into operation. The amendments to the Domestic Violence Act of 1998 aim to increase protection for people exposed to domestic violence, improve access to protection orders, and increase the monitoring of perpetrators of domestic violence.
The amendments aim to decrease the overwhelming amount of gender-based violence and violence against children in South Africa.
What is the Domestic Violence Act?
The Domestic Violence Act (DVA), 1998, is the law that deals with domestic violence in South Africa. This Act provides protection for people experiencing domestic violence, outlines penalties for people who commit domestic violence and commits the government to end domestic violence.
The purpose of the DVA is to protect people experiencing domestic violence. One of the ways this is done is through protection orders.
A Protection Order is a Court Order issued by a Magistrate that orders the perpetrator of the domestic violence not to commit acts of domestic violence (abuse) against you or the person on whose behalf you are applying. This order is valid and applicable throughout South Africa, regardless of which court grants it to you.
In terms of the DVA, you can apply for a protection order against anyone who commits domestic violence, and these applications can be made by various people, including:
- Yourself – you can apply for a protection order if you are abused by anyone with whom you have a domestic relationship (someone you are/were in an intimate relationship with – dating, married, engaged; someone who lives in the same house/property as you; a family member; someone you share childcare responsibilities with; someone who believes you are in a relationship with them).
- Friends/family – someone else can apply on behalf of the person who is being abused.
- Other community members – this could be a person who suspects or knows that domestic violence is taking place, such as a teacher, doctor, police officer, healthcare worker, social worker, etc.
What are the amendments and why are they important?
The amendments to the DVA that came into force on 14 April 2023 mostly relate to procedural matters. Still, they aim to make it easier for people to apply for protection orders and ensure that court staff provide more/better assistance. Singo explains that the two main goals are “to enhance the protections available to survivors of domestic violence; and to address practical challenges, gaps and anomalies which have manifested since the DVA came into operation.”
1. Some amendments can help make it easier to apply for protection orders.
- Court personnel must be available to accept applications for protection orders at any time of the day. Previously, protection orders could only be applied during court hours and only after hours in emergencies.
- Applications for protection orders can now be submitted electronically (i.e. by email) or through a dedicated online portal. This will make it easier for people to apply even when they cannot get to a court. For people confined to their homes, for whatever reason, an electronic portal could be the only way to access help.
- If you (or some applying on another’s behalf) cannot read or write or, for some other reason, cannot complete a protection order application, a court clerk must assist you in doing this.
- Interpreters must be provided for people applying for protection orders and those attending court.
2. The monitoring of abusers will be increased.
- If you (or someone on behalf of whom you are reporting) live on the same property as the abuser and believe that they threaten you, you can apply for a ‘Notice’ in addition to the protection order. The Notice may direct the SAPS to contact you or visit your property regularly to ensure your safety. If the SAPS are prevented from accessing the property, they may use reasonable force to enter the property and communicate with you privately.
3. Stricter guidelines for court personnel and reporting of domestic violence.
- Court personnel must remain updated on regulatory changes and attend annual training related to domestic violence directives.
- Clerks of the court must take all reasonable steps to keep the information confidential.
- If clerks of the court do not follow the new directives, they will face disciplinary action.
- Any adults and certain functionaries (police, healthcare workers, educators, etc.) who have reason to believe, suspect, or know domestic violence is being committed against a child, a disabled person, or an older person must report it to a social worker or the SAPS.
A prosecutor cannot refuse to prosecute a person who has violated the terms of a protection order.
Why are These Changes Important?
These changes are important because they make it easier for people to apply for protection orders against abusers. This is one of the steps that can be taken to help protect you against violence and abuse.
These amendments also aim to make sure that personnel are held accountable for ensuring that people receive the necessary assistance when reporting domestic abuse or applying for a protection order. As such, if you or someone you know has attempted to report domestic violence or apply for a protection order and has not received proper help, you can report the person and they will face disciplinary action.
Overall, these amendments seek to provide better protection to people experiencing domestic violence. Still, as we know, these amendments will only make a difference if the SAPS and court personnel stick to the directives and follow procedures correctly.
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence takes many forms. People often think it only counts as violence if it causes physical injuries, but domestic violence is more than just physical violence. Some kinds of domestic violence are:
- Physical (All forms of physical harm like hitting, kicking, slapping, pushing, burning, scratching, or shooting.)
- Sexual (Sexual assault or rape)
- Emotional (Anything that negatively affects your emotions, like calling you names, threatening to harm you or your children, or making you feel scared or bad about yourself.)
- Psychological (Saying or doing things that harm you psychologically or mentally, like making you feel worthless, gaslighting you, or making you feel like you are ‘crazy’.)
- Verbal (Shouting, swearing, or anything that harms you verbally.)
- Economic (When you are harmed economically or financially. For example, the abuser steals your money, refuses to buy groceries, uses the money to control you, and more.)
- Intimidation (When a person threatens to harm you, your family, or your friends if you don’t do what they want you to. If they purposefully scare or bully you or pressure you to do things you don’t want. Psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse can be intimidation.)
- Harassment (If someone follows, watches or phones you all the time or sends you unwanted emails and messages even when you have asked them to stop.)
- Damage to property (If someone intentionally breaks your belongings or property.)
- Stalking (Someone following you or watching you with your consent.)
- Entry into a person’s property without their consent (when someone comes into your property without your permission)
- Any other abusive or controlling behaviour where such conduct causes harm or may cause harm to your health, safety, or well-being.
What To Do if You or Someone You Know Experiences Domestic Abuse?
First, you must report the violence/abuse to the nearest police station. You will write an affidavit/statement including information about the abuse.
- You will need your full details, such as your name, ID number, address, phone number and address for your place of work.
– If you have them, the details of the person you are applying for a protection order are also beneficial to you as it assists the court and the police in carrying out the process.
– If you have other evidence, like photos, doctor’s letters, statements by other people, etc. You can take these with you, but you DO NOT have to have these to apply for a protection order.
- You will then take these documents to the clerk of the court. The Court will consider your application as soon as possible.
- If the court agrees that a protection order is needed, they will issue an interim protection order.
- The order will be served to the person accused of abuse. They will need to appear in court. After this, the order will be made final, depending on the Court’s decision.
At this stage, it is not clear yet how to make the application online. As soon as we have this information, we will update you.
If you are a survivor of domestic violence and need support, please reach out to: