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The maximum sentence for femicide is only half the maximum sentence for fraud, yet 1 400 women die every year because they are murdered by their intimate partners.

Powa brought this to our attention earlier this year with their video showing how people would respond to loud drums late at night, but they would not respond to loud screams and the sound of a beating. According to the video stats an average of three women are being murdered by their intimate partners every day. But this isn’t a headline that makes the news. I suppose 1 400 in the number of 16 834 reported murders is less than 10% of all murders, but for me this is a figure worth talking about.

In the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre hall you’ll see a poster that says the following:

Fact: 9/10 court judges are men; Fact: 1/10 accused of domestic violence are convicted; Fact: 1/20 accused of rape are convicted. Fact: The maximum sentence for femicide is only 1/2 the maximum sentence for fraud. Fact: the legal system abuses women.

What are we to interpret by this? Is it as simple as a gender breakdown — a male judge will sympathise with a male offender — or is there more to it?

Why is it so hard to convict someone of domestic violence? Or rape? What are the complexities here? And how can we improve the system to allow women to survive domestic violence, leave their partners and heal?

Some say that education is the answer. They say that if you educate women, they will become more empowered. This feeling is expressed by the Girl Effect video which says that a good education gives girl children the skills and economically empowers them, so that when if they enter an abusive relationship they can leave. But is education enough? What about when our schools aren’t safe? (Jules High school springs to mind).

And what about those cases where you’ve been through school, and maybe through University, and you still end up in an abusive relationship. Let’s be clear, this type of abuse happens across demographics. What do we do then?

Here are my suggestions for where the state can help:

  1. Equip the police with great training so that they can take great statements, and can recognise the symptoms and signs of domestic violence, rape and other gender-based crimes.
  2. Equip the police with knowledge about the law, the changes in the law, and their responsibilities to inform survivors of violence about their rights.
  3. Provide enough shelters, and sufficient funding for them, so that women can leave without fear of starvation or that their children will be left behind and harmed in their place.
  4. Do more public awareness about the Domestic Violence Act so that people know about how to access protection orders and can legally protect themselves.
  5. Employ more female judges (just to see what happens).

And here’s where we can come in:

  1. Support the survivors of domestic violence when they tell us their stories.
  2. Equip ourselves with knowledge about where to get help and the services that are available to us and to survivors.
  3. Seek advice from service providers about what you can do, and how you can best assist those who are being abused.

It’s not impossible to reduce this number of murders. It just takes a little bit of commitment and a lot of support.


  • Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on


Jen Thorpe

Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing...

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