Know Your Rights - Legal Protection from Domestic Violence
Vani* has been in an abusive relationship for eight years. She finally summoned enough courage to leave her husband, David*, after their three year old son began to develop nightmares and hid under the staircase everytime David came home from work. Vani realised that she couldn't put her son through the violence that she was facing, so she made an escape plan. She kept all her important documents like her identity card and her son's birth certificate, some money and some spare clothes in the washing machine. When her husband left for work, she retrieved her belongings and took a taxi with her son to her mother's house. She then lodged a police report on her husband's abuse, and thought that her nightmares were over.
However, when David found out that she ran away, he became furious. He guessed that Vani would be hiding in her mother's house and went to look for her. When they refused to open the gates, he shouted profanity and threw stones at the house. Vani was terrified. She held onto her son and hid in the storeroom, praying that he would go away. After several hours, David left. Vani did not dare to go to work after that. She took a week's leave and stayed at home with her son. After her leave, to her horror, David turned up at her work and hurled abuses at her. He warned her that if she did not go home, he would kill her entire family. This made Vani very frightened.
She did not want to endanger her family because of her decision, and although her family tried to talk her out of it, she decided to rent a room elsewhere. Her son stayed with Vani's mother. A week later, she received a phone call from her mother telling her that her father was attacked by David and some of his friends and was now in the hospital. Vani could not believe that her nightmare was returning, and this time, to her family. When she went to the police station to find out if her husband had been charged for the abuse, the investigations were still going on. She did not know what else to do to stop David from torturing her with his threats and violence. She just wants him to leave her alone so that she could start a new, peaceful life with her child. How can she get protection?
Many survivors of domestic violence continue to face threats and aggression from their partners, even after they have taken the courageous step to leave the abusive relationship. Some even return to their husbands to prevent their families and friends from being endangered because they do not wish to be a burden to their loved ones. The abusive partner (usually the male), after having exerted control and power over their spouse through the violence, normally cannot accept it when the spouse takes positive steps to leave them. This will lead them to continually harass the spouse and those who provide help for the spouse until she agrees to return to her original subservient position in the relationship. Sometimes, the violence inflicted during this period is worse and more escalated than before to demonstrate his position of power.
What then can the domestic violence survivor do to prevent him from further harassing her whilst the police are carrying out investigations on the abuse? Part II, Section 4 (1) of the Domestic Violence Act 1994 provides for legal protection to the abused person(s) through the Interim Protection Order (IPO). The IPO is a temporary Order from the court that prohibits the abuser from further acts of violence towards the spouse, their child(ren) or members of her family, pending police investigations. If the abuser violates this Order, he can be held for Contempt of Court and may be fined or imprisoned. Sometimes, the Magistrate may decide to attach Powers of Arrest with the IPO. This means that the police are able to arrest the abuser without a warrant when he continues to harass and abuse the victim in violation of the IPO.
How to apply for an Interim Protection Order (IPO):
- When you leave the house, go to the nearest Police Station and lodge a police report.
- In the police report, write down the details of how your husband has abused you. You can write your report in any language. Write them down as clearly as possible, and include dates and times of the abuse.
- In the police report, also write down that you want protection from your husband.
- Get a referral letter from the police officer that states that the police are investigating the case.
- Take the letter with you and go to the nearest Welfare Office.
- Speak to the welfare officer about wanting an IPO. Inform the welfare officer about the abuse your husband has inflicted on you.
- The welfare officer will accompany you to the court to apply for an IPO from the Magistrate's Chambers.
- You can also apply for an IPO for other members of your family at the same time, especially your children.
- When you get a copy of the IPO, photocopy it and keep both copies of the IPO in a safe place.
- If your husband violates the IPO by threatening you or abusing you, go to the nearest police station and lodge another police report about the incident.
- In the police report, write down the details of what he has done and that you have an IPO.
- If you are still uncertain about what to do, contact a women's organisation.
*Names changed to protect WAO's client's confidentiality.
Prepared by Jaclyn Kee
Women's Aid Organisation - 20 Years of Service to Women and Children
Fortnightly Column by WAO on Sunday Mail (Reprinted with permission from Sunday Mail)