From Wednesday 2 December, women and other victims of domestic violence in South Africa are able to contact the National Shelter Movement of South Africa’s (NSMSA) 24-hour toll-free Shelter Helpline. This is the first national helpline exclusively dedicated to helping victims of domestic abuse access shelter services in each of the nine provinces, while also assisting with a variety of other issues that impact survivors. The call centre is based in Cape Town and currently operated by three (3) experienced social workers. Contact the helpline by calling 0800 001 005, or send an SMS, WhatsApp or Please Call Me to 082 057 8600 / 082 058 2215 / 072 230 7147, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the NSMSA’s Advocate Bernadine Bachar, the National Shelter Helpline Project Lead, the past few weeks of planning and preparation for today, has been both exciting and nerve-wracking. She says, “It will all be worth it if we can save more lives by ensuring that more victims of abuse get access to shelter services, a critical step in helping victims find safety and reprieve from abuse. Our research has found that shelters play a phenomenal role in this regard, as more than half of women who enter shelters do not return to their abusive partners after leaving a shelter.”
She says, “Up to now, much of our efforts as the National Shelter Movement of South Africa has been spent supporting shelters in various ways, in particular, advocating for more support and funds for shelter services from government. We have spent considerable time shining a light on the chronic underfunding of shelters for abused women around the country.” “However, it has become more and more evident, especially during the initial stages of lockdown, that there was a need to establish our own dedicated helpline – a central number where victims could easily call to be referred directly to a shelter instead of first having to approach other service providers. Through this project, made possible by the Ford Foundation, the NSMSA is better able to make an even bigger impact in national efforts to stem the scourge of femicide in the country,” says Bachar. Bachar adds that the social workers operating the National Shelter Helpline will also be able to provide useful information around safety planning for escaping or exiting an abusive relationship or situation, as well as provide information and advice on how to obtain a protection order, or advice in situations requiring police services.
NSMSA’s Executive Head, Zubeda Dangor, explains further why the need for a dedicated helpline arose: “One of the key issues still plaguing the sector is that is that not all victims are aware that shelters exist, and at times, neither do first responders, such as the police. Findings from our research on the police’s ability to refer victims to shelters – conducted with the Heinrich Boell Foundation – revealed that not all police officers were able to refer victims to shelters even though it is a mandatory obligation as set out in the Domestic Violence Act. There was also misperception of what shelters do, and at times police officers were passing on information that was simply not correct.” “In our work with abused women, we have also had to deal with many horror stories regarding protection orders. Through the National Shelter Helpline, we will advise women on these matters; what they should expect when dealing with the police and what to do, if their needs are not adequately served. Our social workers will also be able to guide women through the processes associated with obtaining and the issuing of protection orders, and also provide advice and assistance should victims encounter any problems,” says Dangor.
“The NSMSA also has a support network of partners working in the GBV space, to tap into. This ensures that women in domestic violence situations receive the assistance they need to get to safety and begin their journey to recovery. As an organisation dedicated to the protection of women in South Africa, we are very proud and excited to now have a dedicated support team working around the clock, ready to answer calls for help,” concludes Dangor.
How to contact the National Shelter
Helpline: Main Number: 0800 001 005 (toll-free from landline, 24-hours)
WhatsApp, SMS or Please Call Me: 082 057 8600 / 082 058 2215 / 072 230 7147