Gender-based violence spikes amid pandemic

By Confidente Reporter

AS the deadly Covid-19 pandemic steadily gains ground in Namibia, women and girls overwhelmingly are at greater risk and more vulnerable to abuse, following 167 cases of gender-based violence recorded in the Khomas region during the month of March.

While helpful in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, there are growing concerns that movement restrictions owing to the lockdown have left victims trapped with their abusers. There are also fears the lockdown might cause a spike in incidents of gender-based violence, such as domestic abuse and sexual exploitation – as households struggle with stress, economic pressures and confinement to the home.

Confidente analysed the 167 cases of domestic violence recorded by the Namibian Police during March when the state of emergency and subsequently the lockdown of the Kh omas and Erongo regions, came into force and established that 95 percent of complainants were female (only five percent were male), who reported their partners for domestic violence.

Confidente established that informal settlements appear to be hit harder by the scourge of gender-based violence, as a majority of the incidents were recorded in those areas. Experts attributed this to the economic fallout that has affected people’s livelihoods, especially those who were poor already, and the disadvantaged that suffer the most.

A majority of the cases include rape, physical assault, common assault, assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm and crimen injuria as well as assault by threat.

Physical assaults came in the form of slapping, punching and kicking, insults, damage to property such as cellphones and other electronics, theft of money and household goods, knife stabbings as well as threatening to kill.

Other cases involve the violation of protection orders, theft and housebreaking. All cases involve intimate partners, mostly between boyfriends and girlfriends, and to a lesser extent married couples.

Confidente further established that while a number of suspects have been arrested, others continue to roam the streets as free individuals, some because they are unknown suspects.

However, the police say there has been a decrease in the number of GBV cases, as 310 cases were recorded in November 2019 compared to 167 in March this year when the lockdown came into force.

Among the more prominent cases recorded in March,  a son of former president Hifikepunye Pohamba, Hamukoto Pohamba was arrested last week and charged under the Combating of Domestic Violence Act on the grounds of common assault and damage to property.

The 41-year-old suspect was said to have slapped, throttled and scratched his 37-year-old wife during an altercation along Robert Mugabe Avenue in Windhoek, in which he reportedly also threw a brick at the rear window of the vehicle she was in, while two children were seated inside.

It emerged at his first court hearing in connection with the alleged assault last Thursday that Hamukoto injured his wife, Albertina Ndishishi as he tried to grab the steering wheel while she was trying to get away. She pleaded last week that he not be released on bail. It is understood that he remains in custody.

Another case involves a woman who reported her boyfriend for pulling out her hair extensions, as well as repeatedly kicking her. It is not clear what led to the incident.

In another case, a 42-year-old man threatened to kill his girlfriend. She then lodged a case of crimen injuria, common assault and assault by threat, while a second man, aged 46, also threatened to kill his girlfriend. He faces a charge of assault by threat.

A woman who allegedly stole her boyfriend’s bankcard and withdrew money without his consent now faces charges of theft and fraud, while in another incident a man beat up his girlfriend with a bottle, causing multiple injuries. He was arrested.

The police said threats to kill someone are considered a serious crime as many aggressors, mostly men, live up to their threats. “We do not compromise or take chances with such cases because we do not know whether it will happen or not. It is not a joke but a serious case.”

In a separate case, a man beat up his girlfriend with a chain and was soon arrested for it, while another man lodged a case of theft against his girlfriend for stealing his house keys and running off with N$1 400 without permission.

Meanwhile, a man aged 30 was arrested for raping a woman and threatening to kill her. In another incident, a male victim lodged a case of assault by threat after his girlfriend threatened to kill him.

A male suspect also faces charges of common assault and assault by threat for slapping his girlfriend and threatening to kill her, while another man faces a charge of common assault for punching his girlfriend several times, causing her face to swell up. He was arrested.

Another man threatened to kill his girlfriend and shared her positive HIV/AIDS status with his friends. He was charged with assault by threat and defamation of character.

A man also burnt his girlfriend’s clothes and bedding, he faces a charge of malicious damage to property, while a woman also faces a charge of theft after she stole household goods, including a bed and fridge from her boyfriend and disappeared without his permission. She has not been traced.

A taxi driver allegedly kidnapped a 15-year-old girl, dragged her into the bushes and attempted to rape her. She was fortunately rescued by passersby. He was driving her to the Grove Mall when he took a sudden detour.

A man also slapped his girlfriend and damaged her computer. He faces a charge of malicious damage to property and common assault while another man was arrested for sexually violating his 13-year-old step-daughter since April 2019.

The police believe that while the lockdown and alcohol may be contributing factors, they are not the primary cause of the violence. They say that poverty, misunderstandings and frustration at being stuck in the house are underlying factors.

In response to the rise of GBV amid the pandemic, Dianne Hubbard, the coordinator of the Legal Assistance Centre for Gender Research and Advocacy Project said there is a need to be concerned about GBV during the current lockdown.

“People who are confined in their homes are likely to feel frustrated, and they may vent these feelings on their children, spouses or family members. Having children and adults at home all day long may increase family conflict, with houses and communities being more crowded than usual. Victims of domestic violence may find themselves more isolated from the community during this time, and they may find it harder to reach out for help while their abusers are nearby.”

She added that while the restrictions on the sale of alcohol might possibly reduce GBV, it may also lead to more frustration that could exacerbate violence. “Namibia has never had a lockdown such as the present one before, so we don’t know what to expect.”

Hubbard advised, “Don’t be shy to reach out for help. You can call out to a close neighbour for help. You can telephone a family member, a pastor or police for help. If you do not want to be overheard, send an SMS to one of the NGOs that is still operating and delete it before anyone else sees it.”

Police urged people to use the lockdown period to spend quality time with their loved ones and maintain peace at all times. “Give attention and appreciate each other. Take time to talk about good things, spend time with the kids. This lockdown is not entirely bad and people can also use it to pamper themselves and rest.”