“No One Deserves to Be Abused”

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By Lesley-Anne van Wyk WINDHOEK An issue seldom discussed is what is being done to aid abused women and children in Namibia. The statistics say that one in five Namibian women is in an abusive relationship and that 60 percent of these women will not seek help. There is still a considerable amount of work to be done in the area of educating women on their rights as these statistics show: There are 700 rapes reported in Namibia every year and the experts say that only 1 in 20 rapes are reported. Rape cases are on the increase in the country, yet the reports of them remain low. The Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia has told New Era of the common phenomenon among women that do report rape cases to withdraw the charges the next day as they begin to feel threatened by the prospect of being without a breadwinner for themselves and their children. “More often than not, the abused women are unemployed with no means to support themselves and their children financially”, says social worker and shelter manager Amor Britz from Friendly Haven, a project of Ecumenical Social Diaconate Action, which is taking strides in addressing the problem. The location of the shelter is kept secret to guarantee the safety of the victims. Friendly Haven is a shelter for battered women and children that has contributed to the welfare of the Namibian community for almost ten years. It offers 24-hour protection for the victims of abuse and it can accommodate up to 18 women and their children at a time. The presentations that are given by the shelter to the Namibian community aim to sensitize women and children to domestic violence, child abuse and how to avoid it. The shelter also gives information on what the women’s options are in terms of reporting the case of abuse to the police. Friendly Haven aims at empowering battered women and providing specialized support to help them and their children find strength and to minimize the trauma of domestic violence. The latest presentation was given in the Okahandja Park informal settlement, where the already existent NGO’s and community-based projects that Friendly Haven already make use of, were approached to hold a meeting with the women and children of the settlement. Other information sessions on domestic violence have been organised in the past at Hage Geingob Secondary School, Namibia Breweries, the Rotary Club e.g. as well as through church groups. Veronica Theron, one of the Friendly Haven board members explains: ” The women are usually so confused. They need some time to think about their situation. We give them the possibility to consider future options in a safe environment without fear.” Theron adds, “For the victim of domestic violence, it is crucial that she has a place where she can go to, that an alternative accommodation is provided if she decides to open a case against her abusers.” The time spent is used to educate the women and children about empowerment, education and rehabilitation that are needed to restore dignity and self-esteem. The victims undergo counselling and also treatment for any injuries sustained during domestic violence. It has also developed a very strong bond with the Police Women and Child Protection Unit, which the shelter relies on for its security. In exchange, the shelter offers its counselling services to the victims of women and child abuse that come to the Unit. Britz describes this interdependent relationship, “The important aspect of the co-operation between the shelter, social workers and the Police Women and Child Protection Unit is that you can count on the support of trustworthy partners.” The women are referred to the shelter by the officers and social workers at the unit and can stay at Friendly Haven for a maximum of three weeks.