Domestic violence, with a focus on economic abuse and the suspended warrant

Article by Swazi Malinga

main--pic-5-When one mentions the word domestic violence, the immediate picture that comes to mind is that of a battered woman covered in bruises with a swollen face. However the truth of the matter is that domestic violence does not end there. Perhaps she was threatened, intimidated and harassed before the abuse became physical. There is another form of abuse that often goes unnoticed and has the effect of trapping its victims and leaving them feeling they have nowhere to run. This is called economic abuse. In one of our client’s cases, A (wife) was married to B (husband) for about four years. A few months into the marriage A was asked to leave her job with the promise that B would take care of her and her two children from a previous marriage. However as the marriage progressed, B started having endless affairs and whenever A confronted him about it, he would get very defensive and abusive, he would threaten her with divorce proceedings coupled with endless insults, threaten to kick her out of their matrimonial home and then he would confiscate her car keys, cut off all money and freeze all the credit cards that she used. With the fear of being homeless and going hungry with two children to feed, she was forced to succumb to the abusive marriage. Economic abuse in short includes the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which the victim is entitled or requires out of necessity, including mortgage bond repayments or rent. It essentially traps a person into living in a marriage or relationship from which escape becomes impossible.

Anyone who is a victim of domestic violence can approach the nearest Magistrate’s Court to apply for a protection order that includes a monetary award. This can be applied for during ordinary court hours, or on weekends and public holidays if the case is urgent. The applicant does not have to wait for the court to allocate a date for the hearing but can get an interim protection order, requiring the abuser to pay the rent or the bond, to pay to the applicant emergency maintenance or pay for the expenses that the applicant incurred as a result of the abuse, such as medical expenses. The protection order is valid throughout South Africa regardless of where it was issued and remains valid until such time that it is withdrawn, cancelled and/or set aside by the person who initially applied for it. The order may be varied by changing some of the terms. For example it may change the address of the premises at which the abuser is not allowed to enter. A protection order may appear to be useless since some abusers view it as a piece of paper, but its power and effectiveness lies in the suspended warrant that the court issues with every protection order.

The warrant is used if the abuser contravenes the protection order. The holder of the protection order must inform the police of any such contravention. The police are compelled to effect an arrest and the abuser can be charged with contempt of court. This carries a sentence of five years with an option of a fine, or both. It is important to note that such a warrant may only be used once. Thereafter the applicant needs to go back to the court to request another warrant to be issued by way of affidavit indicating when the previous one was used and outlining the need for a new warrant to be issued by the court. This process needs to be repeated each time a warrant is used up and a new one is required.

What is critically important is that the applicant depends on the police to cooperate and take action. If this does not take place it is necessary to report such non-cooperativeness to the most senior police official in the station to ensure enforcement.