The National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA) is excited to announce that it will soon launch its own 24-hour toll-free shelter helpline – the first helpline dedicated only to issues of domestic and intimate partner violence – in an effort to get more women to the safety of shelters, away from their abuser. This week, the team of social workers have started their call centre training, followed by a brief testing phase. The National Shelter Helpline for abused women and their children will go-live during the 16 Days of Activism campaign, on 2 December.
According to NSMSA’s Zubeda Dangor, “South Africa’s femicide rate is one of the highest in the world, and for many of these women, domestic violence was already part of the equation. In a recent speech, President Ramaphosa also highlighted that more than half of our country’s women have experienced violence at the hands of their partner. With the Shelter Helpline, we hope to play an even more significant role in helping women escape abusive domestic situations.”
The NSMSA – an umbrella body representing nearly one hundred (100) shelters for victims of abuse and their children, throughout the country – has been championing for shelters for more than a decade. A critical intervention in domestic violence, ultimately preventing more femicides, one of the NGO’s key issues continues to be the lack of funding and support, particularly from government.
“Daily, we receive calls, WhatsApp messages or are contacted through our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts by women urgently needing assistance with domestic violence issues. Up to now, this has had to work. But now, with the support of the Ford Foundation, the National Shelter Movement is able to launch our own shelter helpline. Not only will we draw from our very specific knowledge and experience, but will also tap into our very credible network of partners, to ensure women in domestic violence situations receive the assistance they need to get to safety and begin their journey to recovery. Women in SA will now have a dedicated support team working around the clock, ready to help ensure they get to the safety of a shelter.”
Dangor says the helpline will assist with a host of issues, from getting advice about dealing with the South African Police Services (SAPS) when reporting crimes of domestic abuse to assistance with obtaining protection orders, to finding a nearby shelter.
Heading-up the project is the NSMSA’s Advocate Bernadine Bachar. She says, “Our goal is to ensure that every call from a woman in danger, must be answered. While the government has provided a GBV helpline of its own, this is not specific to domestic or intimate partner violence. On top of that, we have had many complaints – especially during the lockdown, when gender-based violence seemed to intensify – that many women found the service to be inefficient. They either did not get the help they needed quickly enough, or in some cases, not at all.” “The Shelter Helpline will be run by three (3) social workers with substantial experience with shelters for abused women and a thorough understanding of the problems they face when trying to escape a domestic abuse situation. Our research, conducted with the Heinrich Boell Foundation, for example, revealed that victims of domestic violence found dealings with SAPS to be a major problem. Armed with this knowledge and drawing from their experiences, as well as from our pool of expertise, we aim to continue working to improve victims’ of crimes of domestic violence access to information, referrals to shelters and other forms of support,” says Bachar.