Refuge from the storm

Kathy Cronje and Alison Brown in the new safe house.

There is now an accessible escape route for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.

The Safehouse was officially launched on Friday, August 26, at an event in Fish Hoek.

It is a desperately needed solution which is hoped will quell the cycle of domestic violence and the affect on its victims. Included in the wreckage that domestic violence wreaks are stories of nine to 11-year -old boys raping other children, children under four years of age with STIs and 13-year-old girls trading their virginity for cellphones or food.

Poverty and drug abuse are two of the most often quoted reasons for the very high incidence of domestic abuse in the far south.

Now, there is a modicum of hope for some.

The new haven – in an undisclosed area – has 10 beds available for women and their children who need a bolt-hole and safe place to recoup, and reinvent their lives.

The Safehouse is Kathy Cronje’s brain-child, but it has the support of the Provincial Department of Social Development (DSD). It has also captured the hearts of many people and organisations, locally and abroad.

Everything in the home has been sponsored or donated, and the gifts have softened the edges of what is always a deeply traumatic experience for the women needing help. One American woman collected her colleague’s coffee money, and made a $1000 donation.

Local people have made equally large donations, in cash, with boxes of clothes, toys, books, goods – even food.

Every woman who calls this home has a restraining order in place, and Kathy says, the men they have run from often go to extreme lengths to pursue them.

“Safety is crucial, it means we have to have an excellent security system which alerts us to anyone trying to gain access to our residents,” Kathy says.

All workers, house mothers, repairmen and visitors gain access only with strict permission, and after being thoroughly checked for non-violent histories.

Kathy says some days have been hair-raising: trying to get children to various schools and avoid being followed by their fathers who want to find their wives/girlfriends.

Days are filled with court issues, trauma counselling, and rebuilding lives bit by bit, with terrified women.

At the house, Kathy introduces Alison Brown, the social worker, who says she is thrilled that after two years of intense research and study, the reality is that they are now face to face with the people they have been wanting to help.

“It feels like, after two years, Kathy has finally been heard,” Alison says.

The dedicated team of social workers, counsellors and educators at the facility render a basket of services designed to help women and families rebuild their lives.

DSD under the Victim Empowerment Programme, has allocated R464 400 for The Safehouse in this financial year.

Kathy says the statistics speak clearly of the need – and living experience has already shown that the need is equal, across all races and economic situations.

“What changed my life – entirely – was researching these statistics. Most women and children were simply sent home again after domestic abuse, because they simply had nowhere to go,” Kathy said.

She had spent 20 years in architecture but is now devoted to building up human beings instead.

“Children’s court used to take up 10 to 15 percent of the magistrate’s time, now in Simon’s Town it takes up to 60 percent of his monthly work. A 12 year old can have an abortion without her parent’s permission but she’s only legally allowed to have sex at 16,” Kathy says.

She says Masiphumelele has over 750 children in 19 unregistered creches. “If we had enough safe houses and followed every protocol in child protection, we would have to remove 60 percent of children in Masiphumelele, 60 percent of Ocean View’s children and 10% of the children in Red Hill. All of these children have suffered from one or more forms of abuse including sexual, physical, emotional and neglect,” Kathy says.

She refers to both areas as living in crisis, but points out that the need for help is felt everywhere, and that leafy suburbia is by no means free of violence.

Kathy has worked, and still does work, in counselling and helping rape victims at the police station’s trauma support rooms. But she knew the overwhelming numbers were not being addressed, and two years ago she began researching and petitioning for help to set up a proper safe house.

At present the safe house provides a temporary safe care facility for women and children.

Kathy is working on establishing a facility on the same premises just for children. At the safe house, a dedicated rape care service is provided which will provide all the necessary professional care with all the police and medical structures.

Kathy says she has doctors and specialists on board to provide all the necessary exams and help. They are doing this work for free for the safe house women and children.

The next step, which is already being offered but which she wants to have more formalised, is addressing the cause not the symptoms, through skills development.

“We want to offer a sufficiently diverse range of innovative courses – including self defence and entrepreneurial courses- to help the women recreate their lives, become financially independent and be able to walk out of here equipped enough to be utterly self sufficient,” Kathy says.

The running costs are immense and the costs are constant, so there is an unabating need for food, toiletries and incidentals, the challenges are extreme, the stories are heart-breaking: but Kathy has never looked more focused and determined.

“This is all I want to do. The day being able to help these women doesn’t bring me joy is the day I know I have to hand it over to some-one else. It’s not nearly enough, yet…but we will grow. And I count every bed that is filled as a success,” Kathy says.

For more information, contact the DSD hotline on 0800 220 250 or call the house on 021 785 1168 or email info@thesafehouse.org.co.za

For after hour emergencies contact the manager on 084 037 9102. No walk-ins are allowed.