Sioka accused of GBV victim blaming
07 December 2020 | Social Issues
Gender minister Doreen Sioka’s repeated calls to lock up those who withdraw police complaints threatens to further muzzle abuse victims.
As Namibia faces a steep uphill battle to address a pandemic of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), Sioka doubled down last week on her stance that women who make a U-turn on complaints against abusers must be jailed.
She told Nampa that she has taken steps to lobby the justice ministry, adding that she is “warning victims to stop withdrawing cases”.
Gender equality activist Beauty Boois warned that Sioka’s remarks “speak to victim blaming, which is part of the reason that Namibia has become a perpetrator’s paradise”.
Sioka’s attitude will prevent victims and survivors from reporting abuse going forward, they said.
‘Victims need support’
“The proposal to arrest domestic violence victims who withdraw cases is ill-considered. Victims need support, not sanctions,” legal and gender expert Dianne Hubbard of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) said on Friday.
“Case withdrawal in any criminal matter is not within the sole control of the victim. The victim can file a statement requesting a withdrawal, but the decision to proceed or withdraw lies with the Office of the Prosecutor General,” she said.
Hubbard, who has for decades worked on SGBV issues in Namibia, said the minister’s proposal “ignores” the myriad factors that lead to case withdrawals. Studies have found that these include the “debilitating psychological effects of domestic violence, and the very real possibility that victims may have been intimidated into case withdrawals”. Along with that is the social reality that “extended family members sometimes blame and shame victims, and [there is] the economic fact that victims may be financially dependent on their abusers”.
Hubbard said there are other strategies government can implement to bolster case continuations. These include better support from police, prosecutors and social workers as well as clear and responsive avenues for obtaining police assistance when threats are made.
It is also key to stand by victims as they often endure lengthy and difficult police enquiries and legal processes, she said.
Activist Ndiilo Nthengwe described Sioka’s views as “insensitive and disdainful towards victims and survivors of SGBV”.
She stressed that while withdrawals are motivated by many factors, “ultimately it boils down to a power dynamic which victims often have to negotiate to determine whether or not they will continue with their cases”.
Instead of amending laws to arrest victims, government should consider legislative changes that would specifically target perpetrators and families who “continue to intimidate victims and survivors with all sorts of tactics,” she added.
Meanwhile, Boois urged government and others to lobby for free psychological and social support services as well as financial support and safe homes to help victims and their pursuit of justice and safety.
“This is a more human and emphatic way to support survivors,” they said.