The numbers don't lie
Gender-based violence on the increase?
19 February 2021 | Crime
Namibian magistrate’s courts registered more than 6 300 domestic violence applications over the past three years, in addition to over 5 000 interim protection orders and more than 2 600 final protection orders.
In 2018, 1 938 survivors turned to the magistrate’s courts for help, and in 2019 just over 2 000 survivors approached the courts. Last year, a total of 2 370 domestic applications were registered.
It is unclear how the numbers reflect on Namibia's epidemic of gender-based and domestic violence.
“We do not have enough information to analyse the trends accurately. Is domestic violence increasing, or are people who suffer domestic violence becoming more willing to reach out for assistance? It is difficult to know which of these scenarios might be leading to high case numbers,” Dianne Hubbard of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) said.
James Itana of the Regain Trust says in his view these numbers are a sign that more survivors are reaching out and seeking help, but warned that these numbers are “still just the tip of the iceberg”.
He underlined that access to services for survivors is still “a major obstacle that we are battling within Namibia, especially amongst our marginalised and rural communities”.
While Namibia’s GBV problem is widely recognised and government frequently pronounces new awareness campaigns, Hubbard points out that analysis of trends on the issue is sorely lacking in Namibia. “Many other countries undertake victim surveys to try and figure out how many crimes have actually been committed during a specific period to compare this with the number of reports made to police for that crime during the same period.”
She warned that Namibia still has a long way to go “to resolve not just GBV but the generally high levels of violence including violence between males and reckless actions that lead to injury (such as reckless driving).”
She pointed out that attitudes towards violence of any form contribute to the problem in Namibia. “So many people bemoan the levels of GBV but still believe that beating children is a useful form of discipline, when in fact we should be teaching our children that there are non-violent ways of resolving problems, that they must always show respect for other persons and that all persons of any sex or age have an equal right to be treated with dignity.”
Earlier this month, the judiciary announced that magistrate’s courts in 2018 granted 1 520 interim protection orders, 1 693 in 2019 and 1 835 in 2020. This totalled more than 5 000 interim protection orders.
In contrast, a total of 2 601 final protection orders were granted over the same three years.
Hubbard notes this is a “very important” difference that should be investigated. “Did the interim order solve the problem, or was the victim intimated not to return to court make the order final?”
Services, services, services
Itana and Hubbard stressed the need for more services to survivors.
“We have made great strides as a country to strengthen the provision of these services but a lot remains to be done. Services are still not readily available and accessible and in some instances or some parts of the country these services do not exist at all,” Itana said.
He warned that services are not only there to protect survivors, but to hold perpetrators accountable and to assist survivors to heal and move on with their lives.
“In instances where the survivor may have been economically dependent on the perpetrator, efforts should be made to economically empower survivors. Not empowering survivors can increase their continued risk and vulnerability towards GBV in the future.”
Practical assistance, access to shelter and grants that boost financial security are crucial tools to help women leave abusive relationships, Hubbards said.
Moreover, she emphasised the need for divorce reform to make leaving marriages easier.