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Justice’s Final Verdict falls on Domestic Violence

The second episode of "The Final Verdict”, a television programme produced by the department of Justice and Constitutional Development in partnership with the South African broadcasting Cooperation, reflected on one of the perennial ills of our society, domestic violence.

The episode was a re-enactment of a finalised case involving the State and Sonja Jansen. Sonja is a Cape Town mother who admitted to shooting her abusive husband, Hendrick Jansen, with a .22 rifle whilst on holiday near East London. As it emerged in court, Sonja shot her husband in the stomach following years of continuous abuse.

Subsequent to this unfortunate incident, Sonja called the ambulance for her husband, however, she was later arrested. Amazingly, as outlined in the police report, while Hendrik was being transported to hospital he jumped out of the ambulance and fled. Since that day, he disappeared and was never seen by any other individual. In the absence of his remains, which is the required evidence for a murder case, the presiding officer was compelled to acquit Sonja.

The story of Sonja and Hendrick is a poignant reflection of the consequence of this infirmity in our society. Domestic violence destabilises the family and societal structure, it often leads to homeless children and create lifelong scars to the victims.

It manifest in a number of forms which include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, entry into a complainant’s residence without their consent, or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant.

Victims often struggle to break away from these terrible circumstances as perpetrators are usually close family members who are responsible for their wellbeing and support them financially. In some cases victims tolerate the situation with the hope that the perpetrator will someday change, and recognise that they also need to be treated with respect and dignity.

Like Sonja, some victims do report this crime, but soon withdraw the charges for fear of being killed by the perpetrators. Hence, some of the victims eventually decide to resolve the situation by eliminating the perpetrators because they think it is the only way out, and in the process find themselves in conflict with the law.

In analysing these unfortunate occurrences, experts in the episode alluded to the fact that it is difficult to justify for such actions in court as the law says there should be imminent danger to warrant the murder of any person. They strongly condemn the killing of perpetrators and instead advise victims to seek help.

Victims are therefore encouraged to report any individual to their nearest magistrate’s court, be it a close family member or stranger, and also ensure that they bring some form of proof that they may have to support their allegations.

Our country has a legislation dealing specifically with domestic violence, Domestic Violence Act, No 116 of 1998. Sonja should have also taken advantage of this piece of legislation in place and take action against her husband, whom clearly was hell bent on destroying herself respect and dignity. The Domestic Violence Act, No 116 of 1998 states that anyone who lives in a home environment where domestic abuse is happening can apply to court for a protection order against the person who is being abusive. The order will apply even if they do not live together.

It is crucial to note that children do not need the assistance of a parent or guardian to lodge an application for a protection order.

This ailment requires that collectively we condemn this abusive behaviour and work towards stabilising our society. This commitment will require that we do not turn a blind eye against abuse and violence.

24 June 2011