Dealing with domestic violence during lockdown

Cases of domestic violence are expected to increase during the 21-day lockdown.

While South Africa is in lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, for some, especially those at risk of domestic and gender-based violence, isolating at home presents additional risks.

However, help is available during the lockdown. In an effort to help victims of domestic and gender-based violence stay safe, the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA), with input from partner organisations, have created a practical, sharable tool that not only provides useful emergency and support contacts, but also offers suggestions for being safer in domestic violence situations.

Sanja Bornman, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights, says: “The gendered impact of Covid-19, and the lockdown itself, cannot be ignored. We know that already untenable levels of domestic violence have increased even further during this time and those most at risk need practical step-by-step information on what to do to stay safe – that is exactly what this safety plan offers.”

The following are a few suggestions for developing a personalised and practical safety plan:

Make contact with a trusted person/organisation and let them know that you may need help during this time.

You can reach out to multiple people if need be by developing a WhatsApp group. This helps in case some people are not reachable at the time that you may need support. Give that group a “safe” name so that it does not alert suspicion should the abuser readily access your phone. Try to name the group something that reflects what you would ordinarily do in your day-to-day life, for example, “church/mosque group” or “book club”.

Create a code word with your trust person/group so that people are aware when you are needing help.

If you have neighbours that can help, you can also develop a visual signal that will alert them should you be in distress. Examples of visual signals could be switching an outside light on and off several times, or tying a piece of material around the railing of a fence or a tree or around/on anything that is visible from the outside of your house.

Agree with your neighbour about what type of assistance is needed depending on the visual signal. For example, a piece of red material could signal that you need your neighbour to contact the police. White material could signal that you need your neighbour to create a diversion such as ringing your doorbell or calling your cellphone/landline.

If you have children, and they are old enough to understand, discuss this plan with them too.

Apply for a protection order if you don’t have one already. Shelters can assist as well as organisations like Mosaic. Magistrate’s courts also remain open during this time.

If you can, keep a record of the abuse, noting dates, events and threats made. This will be useful when seeking legal support or protective mechanisms like when applying for a protection order. Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures if you have these.

Important contact information:

Gender-based violence Command Centre

Call 0800 428 428

Send a “Please Call Me” by dialing *120*7867#

SMS “help” to 31531

“Helpme GBV” via Skype

LifeLine’s domestic violence helpline

Call 0800 150 150


Telephone counselling and referrals for survivors of abuse.

Call 021 761 7585 (8.30am to 4pm)

Rape Crisis

24-hour support, including how to access Thuthuzela Care Centres for medical and forensic assistance to rape survivors.

Afrikaans: 021 633 9229

isiXhosa: 021 361 9085