Seeking safety in the court
The report is based on data from the court files of 1122 protection order applications from nineteen different magistrate’s courts in twelve regions covering the vast majority of applications filed in the first three years of the law’s operation. The study also drew on a total of 60 interviews, mainly with magistrates and clerks of the court, and group discussions with traditional leaders, police and magistrates.
The study revealed a number of findings. By the end of 2008 every magistrate court had received at least one protection order application, complainants ranged from the age of 3 to 77 and included domestic workers, members of the armed forces, nurses, teachers, accountants, architects, a missionary and an ambassador. Another revelation was that the only category of people not really accessing the law are rural residents because of lower public awareness in the rural areas, longer distances to courts and a great reliance on extended family or traditional authorities to deal with such matters.
The study also revealed that the law is being used to address serious incidents of domestic violence and that many women are turning to the law to get violent men out of their homes. More than two thirds of complainants shared a house with the abuser.
Diane Hubbard Coordinator, of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre said that the law is a success as it stands, in the sense that it is helping people in violent situations. “ One magistrate told us that violation of a protection order is a criminal offence and this makes people respect it, a clerk of the court said. “Prior to the introduction of the Act, there was a lot of silent suffering, now men have to respect their wives.”