n Acta Juridica - Bridges and barriers : a five year retrospective on the Domestic Violence Act




In 1998 South Africa's Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act (the DVA), a comprehensive piece of legislation aimed at addressing the high levels of intimate violence in this country. The drafting of this legislation, subsequent efforts to monitor its implementation and resultant advocacy to ensure its effectiveness, have given feminist activists in South Africa an important opportunity to influence criminal justice policy towards victims of domestic violence and to inform both procedural and substantive aspects of the Act. These contributions to the law reform process in South Africa have not been limited to technical legal adjustments but have also included the procedural practices of managing domestic violence cases. Over the past decade the domestic violence law reform movement has become an important arena from which to challenge the social and legal understanding of women's experiences with domestic violence and to ensure that these experiences are embodied within law and criminal justice practice. These efforts have shown mixed results. For some this reinforces their ambivalence about the effectiveness of law and of the criminal justice system in combating violence against women. Others, including ourselves, have taken heart from the shifts that have occurred over the five years since the Act was promulgated, in respect of criminal justice practice and policies relating to domestic violence. This is an ongoing and arduous process both for those outside and inside the system, but there is little doubt in our minds that the law continues to be an important site for social transformation and the emancipation of women from violence in this country. In this chapter, we look at research findings on the implementation of the DVA and our own engagement with this process through five years of research and advocacy aimed at improving state responses to domestic violence.


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