However, I would like to comment on the ensuing statement by the Namibian police questioning the value of protection orders (The Namibian, September 28 2012).
No court order and no threat of prison can ever be effective against a person who places no value on his own life or freedom. So it is true that protection orders cannot always protect. This is recognised in many other countries which use similar legal mechanisms to respond to domestic violence.
The person who is at risk is usually the best judge of whether or not a court order is likely to restrain or inflame the situation, but it is not always possible to know how a violent individual will react.
It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of protection orders because there are so many factors involved in family violence – such as the ambivalence of some complainants, conflicting attitudes on the part of children or extended family members, and whether or not violations of the protection order are promptly reported to the police and decisively punished.
The Legal Assistance Centre recently published a study of domestic violence in Namibia, entitled Seeking Safety. Most of the clerks of court and magistrates interviewed for this study perceived protection orders as being effective. Some reported a resulting reduction of domestic violence in their communities, positive feedback from specific families and successful reconciliations between couples. The Legal Assistance Centre has also had some reports from clients that protection orders have helped to make them safer.
But protection orders certainly do not all lead to happy outcomes. For example, domestic violence was the precursor to one infamous Namibian murder by a husband who subsequently dismembered his wife’s body. The Court noted that the deceased had laid a complaint under the Domestic Violence Act two months before the murder; this complaint was set to have been heard by the local magistrate the following day, but was reportedly removed from the roll instead. No further details about that complaint were provided, but surely this was a cry for help which should have been heeded even if the deceased chose not to pursue the case (S v Orina  NAHC 127).
In another Namibian case, a man who was convicted of murder for killing his former partner cited a protection order as the provocation for the murder. The Court concluded that the accused was only trying to shift blame away from himself by making this assertion, but emphasised that protection orders cannot be effective unless they are taken seriously. The accused had allegedly been charged with assaulting and threatening the deceased while the protection order was in force, but released on bail shortly before the murder; this was not proved or disproved, but the Court observed that “lip service is paid to the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act” without serious attention to its enforcement. The Court concluded that “if proper attention is given to these initial complaints, lives may be saved” (S v Jacob  NAHC 42).
Instead of questioning the value of the concept of protection orders, it would be more useful to focus on trying to enforce them more effectively – by heightened monitoring by police and social workers, prompt attention to reports of breaches and careful consideration of bail applications in such cases. It would also be useful to provide additional assistance for women who fear for their lives – such as more shelters, better community support networks and therapeutic counselling programmes for men who have problems with violent behaviour.
Most of all, we must give urgent attention to our children, to be sure that we train them from the earliest ages that such violence is deeply, horribly wrong.
We as a society cannot let violence against women prevail. We must not rest until we have a sufficient range of tools at our disposal to stop this scourge.
* Dianne Hubbard is the Coordinator, Gender Research & Advocacy Project of the Legal Assistance Centre.