Tackling trauma head-on

From left are Lentegeur police station victim support volunteer coordinator Janice January and volunteer Stoffel Frederick; Lentegeur police station Domestic Violence and Victim Support co-ordinator Constable Penelope Mbolekwa, and Mitchells Plain police stations Sergeant Patrick Mavume.

At the coal face of crime are the 41 075 victims who reported incidents, including assault, theft, rape, murder and abuse at Mitchell’s Plain, Strandfontein and Lentegeur police stations between April last year and March this year.

The Plainsman visited each of the station’s victim-friendly rooms to find out what services are available to victims of crime.

Our visit comes just ahead of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, an international awareness-raising campaign, which runs from Saturday November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women), including World Aids Day on Friday December 1, until Sunday December 10.

This year’s theme “Count me in: together moving a non-violent South Africa forward”, aims to attract all South Africans to be active participants in the fight to eradicate violence against women and children.

When Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula released the 2016/2017 National Crime Statistics on Tuesday October 24, he emphasised that “we must not see these statistics just as pure numbers.

“Behind the numbers are real feelings, real lives, real hurt, real harm, real losses, deaths, feelings of unsafety – these statistics represent the memory of that gruesome rape or murder, the fearful home invasion and loss of property,” he said. “These numbers have consistently said no community can claim they live in safety and feel safe in South Africa.”

Registered counsellor Zara Lakay, from Rondevlei Park, who volunteers at Strandfontein police station’s victim-friendly room, experienced first-hand, during her intern year of studies, that residents who could not afford counselling experienced secondary trauma. “They often do not get professional help or are not empowered to do something about what had been done to them, that is crime,” she said.

Ms Lakay said many would not have access to counselling had it not been available at every police station.

The victim-friendly service, she said, was there to prevent further trauma and to refer victims to government or non-governmental organisations, medical institutions or any other groups in the area which provide medical, legal, social and counselling services to victims.

In most cases the South African Police Service (SAPS) is the initial point of entry to the criminal justice system, and is therefore responsible for ensuring that the victims of crime, especially sexual offences and other serious and violent crimes, are provided with a victim-friendly service.

The four basic elements of victim empowerment are emotional support; practical support; providing information; and referral to professional support services.

Ms Lakay said support was crucial, particularly from friends and family members, who often do not know how to empathise.

She added that she knows of two young men who had committed suicide in Strandfontein in the past year. One of them had suffered from a mental illness and the other had possibly buckled under the pressure of daily stress.

Ms Lakay had counselled one of the families afterwards. “We need men to come and seek professional help,” she said, and called for more men to volunteer their time in the victim-friendly rooms, to ensure their male counterparts felt more at ease with expressing their feelings.

Station commander Captain Terence Malong, said robberies along the road were common, with women in particular becoming targets when they walk with their earphones in their ears.

He said house break-ins in the area happened almost every day in the precinct and that victims of these thefts could also visit victim-friendly rooms, where they debrief.

Mitchell’s Plain police station’s Sergeant Patrick Mavume said volunteers at the facilities should be dedicated and prepared to serve the community – without gain.

“As men we have to show abusers that abuse must stop. Men must stand up in the fight against abuse and we hope some day we will succeed,” he said.

Lentegeur police station victim support volunteer co-ordinator Janice January, from New Woodlands, said she helps out at the station because she has a passion for helping people. She said sometimes there are police officers who are a bit harsh with victims “but we are here to ensure they feel safe and comfortable to open a case and report what had happened to them”.

Each case is documented on a case summary sheet, on which the victim’s details are recorded, notes made for referrals and possible support for the investigating officer.

Ms January also highlighted the need for more men to volunteer as counsellors – as well as people who are proficient in Xhosa. Volunteers must be able to read and write; be empathetic; and not have a criminal record. They will be sent for training and are supervised for about six-months, by their colleagues.

Explaining how a protection order is granted, Lentegeur police station Domestic Violence and Victim Support co-ordinator Constable Penelope Mbolekwa said anyone can lay a charge at the police station but a protection order could only be granted by a magistrate, at court. The purpose of a protection order is to prevent the recurrence of domestic violence or sexual harassment by explicitly stating what conduct the alleged offender must refrain from.

Sergent Mavume specified that a perpetrator, who contravened a protection order by endangering the life of the victim, would be arrested.

Sandy Schutter, chairperson of the Strandfontein community police forum (CPF), echoed the call for more male volunteers. “There is a need for male counsellors, from Strandfontein, as we often see many men that seek guidance and assistance. We want the victim empowerment programme to assist both men and women,” she said.

To volunteer at Strandfontein police station’s victim-friendly room and for more information email strandfonteincpf@gmail.com or call 071 947 8294.

To volunteer at Lentegeur police station’s victim-friendly room and for more information email Lentegeur.sc@saps.gov.za or call 021 377 5037.

To volunteer at Mitchell’s Plain police station’s victim-friendly room and for more information email Lentegeur.sc@saps.gov.za or call 021 370 1661.