Toll-free number to help victims of abuse

The National Shelter Helpline will help victims of domestic violence find a shelter and give advice on protection orders.

Victims of abuse now can get access to a shelter by phoning a single 24-hour, toll-free helpline from anywhere in the country.

The National Shelter Movement of South Africa’s (NSMSA) started taking its first calls on its Shelter Helpline, on Wednesday December 2.

Social workers will be able to give victims a range of advice and help them access shelter services in each of the nine provinces.

The call centre is based in Cape Town and run by three social workers.

The NSMSA’s Bernadine Bachar said a lot of planning and preparation had gone into the project.

“It will all be worth it if we can save more lives by ensuring that more victims of abuse get access to shelter services, a critical step in helping victims find safety and reprieve from abuse.”

The NSMSA was established in 2008 as an umbrella body representing nearly 100 shelters for victims of abuse and their children, throughout the country. Since then, the NSMSA has been pushing for government to support shelters to prevent more femicides.

“We have spent considerable time shining a light on the chronic underfunding of shelters for abused women around the country,” Ms Bachar said.

The need for a dedicated helpline – a central number victims could call to be referred directly to a shelter – had also become apparent, especially during lockdown, she said.

“Through this project, made possible by the Ford Foundation, the NSMSA is better able to make an even bigger impact in national efforts to stem the scourge of femicide in the country,” Ms Bachar said.

The social workers on the other end of the line would give advice on how to escape an abusive relationship or seek legal or police services.

The NSMSA’s executive head, Zubeda Dangor, said not all victims – and indeed some first responders such as police officers – realised shelters existed.

“Findings from our research on the police’s ability to refer victims to shelters – conducted with the Heinrich Boell Foundation – revealed that not all police officers were able to refer victims to shelters even though it is a mandatory obligation as set out in the Domestic Violence Act. There was also misperceptions of what shelters do, and at times police officers were passing on information that was simply not correct.”

Victims of abuse had also not always received sound information on protection orders.

“Our social workers will also be able to guide women through the processes associated with obtaining and the issuing of protection orders, and also provide advice and assistance should victims encounter any problems,” she said.

Call the helpline at 0800 001 005, or send an SMS, WhatsApp or Please Call Me to 082 057 8600 / 082 058 2215 / 072 230 7147. Alternatively, email infohelpline@womenscentre.co.za or visit www.nsmsa.org.za