Victims prefer mediation over legal action

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

The latest research conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest incidence of domestic violence, shows that most victims prefer mediation to taking their abusers to court.

The victims participated in victim-centred restorative justice mediation voluntarily.

The study was commissioned by the award-winning NGO Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative.

The organisation regularly monitors the effectiveness of its Justice and Restoration Project in Phoenix.

Restorative justice (RJ) offers a holistic alternative to judicial systems that incarcerate offenders and often ignore victims' need for amends to be made and closure.

Khulisa area manager Cindy Delomoney says RJ entails mediation in which offenders and victims are brought together with trained mediators to discuss the offence and to decide what should be done to ensure the offender is held accountable and restitution offered to the victim.

"The mediation process is sometimes seen as a soft option, but it's not. It can be hard to confront your issues and say sorry."

She said that the research was conducted over six months by KZN University criminologist Hema Hargovan and was completed with focus groups, face-to-face and phone interviews. It studied 205 cases of domestic violence.

"The values of restorative justice hold much promise for crime victims, and when practised with appropriate skill can have a positive influence on the long-term healing of the victims," she said.

Research shows that most domestic violence victim resist laying charges against perpetrators because it might result in the family's breadwinner going to prison.

Of the 205 research participants, 145 (70 percent) said they were still in a relationship with the person who offended them.

In 98 cases, the incidents involved physical violence and 64 participants stated that the violence involved grievous bodily harm.

Most participants said that despite the seriousness of the abuse, they were satisfied with the RJ process since they found it extremely difficult to overcome practical barriers that confront women in domestic abuse situations, such as finding a place to live and fear of reprisal.

Researchers found it interesting to note that participants described their relationships with the offender prior to the offence as very good (2); good (13); satisfactory (2); bad (75); and very bad (113).

Six months after mediation, 39 research participants said their relationships with the offender was very good, 86 said it was good, 35 said it was satisfactory, 16 said it was bad and 29 referred to it as still very bad.

According to Hargovan, about 25 percent of victims said that re-offending had occurred after mediation had taken place.

The research was intended to offer a forum to victims to have their voices heard by civil society and government, who ultimately shape the laws governing SA's criminal justice system.

The study also shows that the women feel their partners are capable of behaviour change and need programmes that deal with alcoholism and unemployment.