Just 24 hours after the launch of the new National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA) helpline, a victim of abuse who was among the first callers was extracted from a dangerous situation and taken to safety.

“When a survivor phones through to the helpline, we get her details including her address. We offer basic emotional support, then assist her to get into a shelter or whatever assistance she needs like going to a police station to lay criminal charges or get a protection order,” said Saartjie Baartman Centre director, Bernadine Bachar.

The 24-hour toll-free shelter helpline, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, went live on Wednesday. It is monitored by three social workers and based at the Saartjie Baartman Centre in Athlone.

Bachar said that based on the volume of calls they received within a day of the helpline going live, it was clear that more resources were needed. She said over 200 calls were dealt with within four days.

“Many women are seeking places at a shelter and we have had a significant number of women requesting assistance in obtaining a protection order,” said Bachar.

She said with the software used for the helpline, social workers could give callers information on the nearest shelters and whether there were beds available. They were working with about 100 shelters, Bachar said.

“A lot of time women don’t really understand what services are offered at shelters. They think it’s merely a safe haven. A safe haven is part of what we do but there are a lot of empowerment programmes, psychotherapeutic programmes and economic empowerment programmes,” she said.

Bachar said the helpline would not only help women in domestic violence situations find a convenient shelter, but would also provide useful information about safety to callers.

Western Cape MEC for Social Development Sharna Fernandez, who attended the launch, urged all women to ensure that emergency gender-based violence contact numbers are saved on their phones.

To speak to social workers on the toll-free helpline, call 0800 001 005.

Source: GroundUp/Mary-Ann Gontsana

Picture: Mary-Ann Gontsana

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