John Steenhuisen in his office at parliament. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF
John Steenhuisen in his office at parliament. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF

The current legislation to stem gender-based violence (GBV) is inadequate and the DA is calling for the tightening of current laws to fight the scourge.

The calls to to replace the 20 year old Domestic Violence Act and the Protection from Harassment Act comes at a time of growing public concern about the violence against women. President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to address a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces on the issue of domestic violence on Wednesday.

The annual crime statistics released last week by police minister Bheki Cele showed that every day almost 114 people are raped — an increase of 3.9% over the previous year with many more cases likely to have remained unreported. During the same period, sexual offences against children increased by 3.8%.

At a media briefing on Tuesday, DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said that unless swift and decisive action is taken, many more women will join the list. He said the country needs urgent, clear and decisive action, going further than jailing perpetrators. It needs to addresses the root causes of the social and moral collapse.

“The DA believes that the government has shown inaction for too long, and that public sentiment on the issue has now reached a boiling point,” he said.

The DA intends to have a first draft of the bill ready before the end of the year and will ask the speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise to fast-track processing the legislation as soon as it is ready to be introduced.

The private member’s bill  the DA plans to introduce will strengthen the powers granted to courts and the SA Police Service to provide essential safeguards and make sure that the rights of the most vulnerable are protected.

Violence vs abuse

The DA has made nine key proposals, including changing the terminology used in the legislation to make it more inclusive — for example, changing “domestic violence” to “domestic abuse”.  Steenhuisen said this recognises that not all abuse is violent and that the threshold for receiving protection does not require an act of physical violence to have taken place.

Provision will be made for a single, defined process of applying for and obtaining an order from the courts protecting against various forms of inter-personal and domestic abuse. This may include acts of bullying or stalking.

The proposed bill will ensure the speedy service and enforcement of protection orders to ensure that victims are immediately provided protection after a protection order is granted.

The police minister will be directed to issue rules that guide the process to be followed by the court, including burden of proof and the leading of evidence. Currently, there are many grey areas as far as court procedures are concerned that have resulted in the inconsistent application of the law across different courts and provinces, and between different presiding officers, according to the DA.

The proposed bill will ensure that court staff dealing with matters of domestic abuse are properly trained, and that experienced and that legally trained court officials are made available to assist parties in a case, particularly where one or both the parties are not legally represented.

A central online register of domestic violence court orders and applications will be created to ensure that a court in one city or town can easily access an order granted by a court indifferent ones.

The proposed bill would create specific offences for those who fail to assist victims of domestic abuse in accordance with the duties placed on them by the law, such as police officers or court officials.

Steenhuisen stressed the need for good policing, which needs to ‘return to basics’.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za