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No mercy now for GBV suspects

Paarl Magistrates’ Court has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to the handling of gender-based violence (GBV) cases.

This comes after increasing numbers of women have died at the hands of violent men across the country. The worrisome surge of restraining orders being issued has also come under the spotlight at the court.

According to control prosecutor at Paarl Magistrates’ Court Nathan Johnson, the court wants to make it known to the community it will be less merciful to abusers, and the court will be handing down much harsher sentences.

This will also strongly apply if it has been found that the rights to life and dignity of a woman have been violated or even threatened.

Referring to the way GBV starts and escalates into sexual abuse and assault, Johnson explains: “A crack in a window left untouched becomes broken. Society is much like that. If men don’t know their place, then that’s what happens. It manifests and it mutates into rape.”

In two separate cases recently before the courts two men received three years’ direct imprisonment each – the one for hitting a woman with a pole and his fists, and the other had slapped his girlfriend.

“You don’t need the death penalty, you need people [judges] to properly sentence.”

Johnson said misplaced aggression and motives lead to the GBV problem in the country, an unfolding pandemic in the country.

He suggests that instead of “a massive march to the President”, people should rather turn their focus to High Court judge John Hlope, and get him to ask magistrates why they aren’t sentencing properly, if at all.

All the President can do is to enact a law, Johnson pointed out, but “he can’t prosecute, he can’t sentence. He’s not a judge.”

Magistrates at the local courts have had enough of these offenders walking free from these GBV cases without any proper consequences. Receiving a lighter sentence because one had drugs in one’s system is also something of the past.

A pattern of bad behaviour in Paarl has been recognised by the prosecution by the volume of abnormal interdicts issued by the civil courts.

Although an interdict can’t save a woman against an abuser, it can help her to get an aggravated sentence.

“All the paper does is to say that if you contravene it, it is an automatic arrest,” says Johnson, “and then we can start to sentence you on contravention of the order.

“Instead of giving you a suspended sentence, we’re now going to give you five years for contravention of the order. So, that’s really what it is, it’s about sentencing.”

Looking after a woman’s well-being is very important, says Johnson, who believes that “if a woman is destroyed there is no nation”, because her trauma manifests in her children who are the leaders of the future.

“They’re [women], a walking piece of heaven, so if heaven is damaged there’s only hell and that’s what’s happening now.”

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