Anti-harassment law a boon for SA democracy

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cape Town – South Africans will have one more feat to celebrate on April 27, as the country’s democracy steadily matures.

This year’s Freedom Day not only marks 19 years of democracy, but it will also see the Protection from Harassment Act come into effect -- a true testimony of how much the country has grown in safeguarding the rights of all those who live in it.

The new law makes it possible for people who believe they are being stalked, harassed via SMS, fax, telegrams and emails to approach the courts for relief.

Those hiding behind anonymity to send offensive SMSes will be able to be traced because the Act compels service providers to give the addresses and ID numbers of offenders when asked to do so by courts. Once granted, interim protection orders come into effect immediately.

Currently, only people involved in a domestic relationship can seek recourse if they are the victims of domestic violence. They can obtain a protection order to ensure protection from the person with whom they are in a relationship.

Chairman of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, Luwellyn Landers, said that this situation created a gap which left people not in a domestic relationship unprotected against harassment.

“With the new law, they’ll have protection. They can approach a Magistrate’s Court and get an interim protection order, which comes into effect immediately upon being issued. Protection is immediate,” said Landers.

The Protection from Harassment Act covers as many instances of sexual harassment as possible because “sexual harassment comes in many forms”.

Explaining how the process would work, Landers said: “Suppose a woman was standing at a bus stop or taxi rank every day and was being pestered daily by a person, whom she didn’t even know, and who was making funny remarks.

“The victim of this unwanted attention can then go to a Magistrate’s Court to see the Clerk of the Court to persuade him/her that there was a case of harassment.”

The clerk would assist the complainant to approach the Magistrate’s Court for an interim protection order, which will be given if the court was satisfied that there was enough substance in the complaint.

In cases where the victim did not know the address of the stalker, cell phone service providers could be approached for these details, as well as ID numbers. The Acts states they have to supply this information to the courts.

“This is an order of a Court of Law which takes effect when granted. So the complainant doesn’t have to wait for it to be served and the stalker [to] sign acknowledging receipt of the document before the order comes into operation.

“The order must be given to the person doing the stalking. The order must be served by the police and the onus will be on the Clerk of the Court and not the complainant to see that it’s served on the person concerned,” said Landers.

However, it is not only victims who can appeal to the courts for help. Even adults can ask the court for assistance in the case of minors whose parents fail to seek legal help. Also, people who have obtained an order against domestic violence may also apply for an interim protection order, Landers said.

The person on whom the interim protection order has been served will be given time to respond why it should not be made permanent.

The complainant also gets a certified copy of the interim protection order to present to police if the harassment continues.

 “This is an excellent law as it fills a gap that always existed in our law,” said Landers. –