During 2019, in response to the public outcry about certain high-profile attacks against women, President Cyril Ramaphosa again committed himself to addressing this problem urgently.

He later emphasised the need for harsher sentences for the perpetrators of gender-based violence and femicide. Researchers (https://theconversation.com/insights-from-research-on-how-to-break-cycle-of-violence-against-women-123934) have cautioned against a populist approach and that responses should be informed by evidence. This includes:

  • Ensuring the provision of social services to the whole family, including children and perpetrators.
  • Providing access to peer groups and social support.
  • Addressing causal factors.

In the RJC’s experience in mediating situations of intimate partner violence, many couples are open to change after one of the parties has taken the step of applying for a protection order. Very often this is a message to the partner that things need to change, rather than a message that the relationship is over. Many perpetrators are only vaguely aware of the patterns of their behaviour. Creating a safe space for dialogue in order to identify the underlying issues that need attention has proved extremely helpful for many couples. Part of the resolution of the specific incident could be to draw on a range of additional resources such as intimate partner violence programmes, couple counselling, financial counselling or substance abuse programmes.

The use of restorative justice mediation has always been controversial. Gavrielides) 2015. IARS International institute. Restorative Justice and Domestic Violence: a practitioner’s guide, p8),  points out that restorative justice seeks to return conflict to the parties involved, while the international trend in intimate partner violence has been to insist that it is not a private matter. Despite this, the value of the use of restorative justice mediation has become increasingly recognised internationally. Mahealani Joy (2016. Here’s Why We Need Restorative Justice as an Option for Dealing with Abuse. Accessed from https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/05/restorative-justice-for-abuse/ , a feminist writer, highlights the following reasons:

  • The current punitive system is generally not very effective. While some survivors will want to pursue justice through this route, we must recognise its limitations and ineffectiveness. There are gaps in the approach the courts can take where restorative justice can make a difference.
  • Over-Individualising violent behaviour does not help to create change. This tends to create scapegoating and blaming of individuals without recognising the context from which they have come and that they remain human beings, despite the acts of violence they have committed.
  • It is not an either/or situation. We do not have to pick either a retributive or a restorative approach. Both approaches exist with the intention of creating healthier communities with accountability for people who cause harm. They have different strategies for achieving that goal. By thinking critically about how abuse and violence happens in our communities and what it would take to create an environment that would enable people who cause harm to change their behaviours, one can choose the approach (or some combination of the two) that best fits.

Tertiary intervention is of paramount importance because ending the violence starts with the perpetrator and not with the victim. It is well known that when victims manage to leave their abusive partners, the perpetrator merely moves on to the next victim. Tertiary intervention is a perpetrator or an offender-specific treatment programme which is considered as an important strategy to stop abusive behaviour and is often mandated by the court. Unlike other violent crimes, intimate partner violence is emotionally charged and involves people who are often in relationships that may not necessarily dissolve with the adjudication of a case. A court-mandated intervention holds perpetrators accountable and at the same time affords them the opportunity to still meet their financial responsibilities towards the family. Thus, part of the role of the domestic violence court is to be thoughtful about the possible continuing relationship between the victim and the perpetrator by opting for therapeutic justice and mandating treatment instead of incarceration and/or a fine.

Incorporating faith in a perpetrator intervention has many advantages, especially in the South African context where Christianity is the dominant religion. Since the 1980s there has been a resurgence of an interest in religion and spirituality in social work, which reflects an increased awareness that religion and spirituality are important aspects of human existence and essential to the worldview of many individuals. Thus, arguably one cannot claim to provide holistic care without addressing the spiritual dimension of personhood.

SA’s recently approved NATIONAL STRATEGIC PLAN ON GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE & FEMICIDE, which is supported by Faith Action to end GBV both call for service delivery that addresses the restoration of human dignity, builds caring communities and responds to historical and collective trauma.