FAQs on domestic violence and sexual offences

Women and children are most vulnerable when it comes to domestic abuse and sexual violence. In many instances, the victims do not even know they are being abused, and if they do recognise it, they do not know where to turn. With 16 Days of Activism under way, we have compiled some FAQs to help you recognise and act against abuse.

Women and children are most vulnerable when it comes to domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Women and children are most vulnerable when it comes to domestic abuse and sexual violence. (Image: Shamin Chibba)

Shamin Chibba

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence refers to violent and forceful behaviour by one adult in an intimate relationship towards another. It may consist of repeated, severe beatings or more subtle forms of abuse, including threats and control.

What are the basic types of domestic violence?

  • Physical abuse

This includes shoving, pushing, restraining, hitting or kicking. In many cases, the severity and frequency of physical assault increase over time.

  • Sexual abuse

This occurs any time one partner forces sexual acts that are unwanted or declined by the other partner.

  • Psychological and emotional abuse

This is the one form of abuse that is tricky to recognise. Emotional abuse can be generally defined as using manipulation, fear, intimidation and guilt to control someone and undermine their self-confidence and independence. Because it is subtle and elusive, people often don’t realise it is happening, no matter how clever, capable or self-aware they are.

  • Attacks against property and pets

This refers to the destruction of property that may include household objects or treasured items belonging to the victim, hitting the walls, or abusing or killing beloved pets.

  • Economic abuse

This includes withholding funds from the victim or depriving the victim of finances to which he or she is entitled under law or requires out of necessity.

What laws protect people from abuse?

The Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Children’s Act were designed to protect people from abuse.

What is the difference between the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act?

The Domestic Violence Act can protect victims through protection orders. This Act recognises that domestic violence is not a private matter – it is a serious crime against society. Besides protecting married people and children, it also protects unmarried people who are involved in relationships or living together, people in same-sex relationships, mothers who live in fear of their sons, and people sharing the same living space.

The Sexual Offences Act of 2007 makes all forms of sexual abuse, assault, rape and exploitation a crime.

Who do I contact if I have been abused?

There are numerous institutions that can help in cases of abuse and sexual offences. The first call should be made to the South African Police Service on 10111.

For more institutions that provide support, check out Where to get help in South Africa if you are being abused.

What are my options if I am being abused?

You have the right to apply for a protection order at the nearest police station or magistrate’s court. You may also lay a criminal charge at the police station and apply for a protection order.

What is a protection order?

It is an order issued by a court at your request, ordering a person with whom you have or had a domestic relationship, to stop the abuse.

Who can apply for a protection order?

Any victim of domestic violence can apply for a protection order. A parent or guardian, or any person acting on behalf of a minor can apply for children, but with their permission.

What can I do to help someone who is in an abusive relationship?

According to the Faith Trust Institute, you can:

  • Listen to the victim and believe them. Tell them that the abuse is not their fault, and is not God’s will.
  • Tell them they are not alone and that help is available.
  • Let them know that without intervention, abuse often escalates in frequency and severity over time.
  • Seek expert assistance. Refer them only to specialised domestic violence counselling programmes, not to couples counselling. Help them find a shelter, a safe home or advocacy resources to offer them protection. Suggesting that they merely return home places the victim and children in real danger.
  • Hold the abuser accountable. Don’t minimise their abusive behaviour. Support them in seeking specialised counselling for abusers to help change their behaviour. Continue to hold them accountable and continue to support and protect the victim even after the abuser has begun a counselling programme.
  • If there is to be any reconciliation, it can be considered only after these steps have been taken.