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What to do in a domestic violence emergency

ER24 Contact Centre emergency resource officers are on standby to react to a domestic violence emergency over the phone, and capable of dispatching a wide range of emergency responders.

“There is a dark and heavy shadow across our land. The women and children of this country are under siege. South Africa is one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman, with levels of violence that are comparable to countries that are at war.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa made this powerful statement before a special joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament late last year. When the country entered into a national lockdown, as a precautionary measure to reduce and prevent the transmission of COVID-19, these tensions escalated alarmingly.

The South African Civil Society for Women’s Adolescent’s and Children’s Health, a coalition of 33 local NGOs supporting the Department of Health with its response to the pandemic, reports that calls to the State gender-based violence command centre have doubled.

More than 120 000 victims rang the National Helpline for Abused Women and Children in the first three weeks after the lockdown started. Would you know what to do in a domestic violence emergency?

The good news: ER24 is here to help. “We can receive calls related to domestic violence through all our Contact Centres,” says Shakira Cassim, general manager of ER24’s Contact Centre. “We facilitate and manage 112 calls for Vodacom and Cell C subscribers, and we’re able to assist callers in requesting the relevant public emergency service assistance.”

This means if you’re involved in a domestic violence incident, or are aware of one as it occurs nearby, you can speak to an ER24 emergency resource officer, who will alert police services immediately. “Our priority remains to get the caller the relevant emergency assistance as quick as possible.”

The World Health Organization recommends that anyone who needs to self-isolate in a home where they do not feel safe makes a safety plan:

  • Identify a neighbour, friend, relative, colleague, or shelter to go to in case you need to leave the house immediately for safety
  • Have a plan for how you will exit the house safely and how you will reach there (for example, transport)
  • Keep a few essential items such as ID documents, phone, money, medicines, and clothes available, and a list of telephone numbers in case of an emergency
  • If possible, agree on a code with a trusted neighbour so they can come to your aid in case of an emergency.

If you’re worried about someone you know during this time, such as a neighbour, relative or friend, there are ways to offer safe and discreet support:

  • Keep in touch with the person to check that they’re safe, ensuring that it is safe for them to be in touch with you
  • Assume that a perpetrator of violence can see, hear and or monitor communications, so find out how best to communicate with the person you’re concerned about
  • Do your research: find out which services for survivors of violence against women are functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic and make this information available through your networks and social media
  • If someone you know needs urgent help for whatever reason, be prepared to call 084 124 for real help, real fast, right now.