Interventions for change
There have been as many as 267 domestic violence cases reported between April and June, fueled by substance abuse.
These statistics are according to the Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse who have been working in the area since 1994. While officials agree that drug addicition is a problem in the area, often alcohol is regarded as a soft substance, therefore not considered by society as a contributor to the scourge.
Ashley Potts, director of the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre says that because alcohol is a legal substance, it is not as badly stigmatised as other drugs.
“We have around 90% of our patients indicating that their drug habits started with alcohol. Treatment of alcohol is a big part of our treatment and rehabilitation of drug addiction as often it is associated,” says Potts.
Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson to Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, says alcohol abuse also remains a concern for the department.
“The Western Cape Government takes the issue of substance abuse very seriously. As a department we fund quite a few NGOs that work in the substance abuse space. We fund 43 organisations working at 51 sites across the province and all of them deal with substance abuse and particularly alcohol abuse too. It does become the forgotten [substance]. We talk a lot about hard drugs but we do tackle alcohol abuse as well,” says Ngobese.
“The treatment of alcohol abuse is more so aimed at therapeutic interventions such as counselling and family interventions and home visits for those who come forward saying they are alcohol abusers and need help. Social workers will host group sessions with alcoholics where they can talk about their issues and their dependency on the substance and some of the other issues that fed into them resorting to alcohol. They also deal with the broader family and how to build a supportive network for those individuals.”
Ngobese says they have treated around 35 000 people suffering from addicition since 2014 and while alcohol is considered an acceptable substance, it ranks in the top four addictions treated at their facilities.
“The latest data coming from our treatment centres shows that the most common primary substances that are used and reported to the centre is Tik, dagga and alcohol in third, followed by heroin. Altogether these make up 92% of all our admissions,” he says.
But while they do not deal directly with the criminal cases associated with domestic violence, Ngobese says they have several facilities catering to the needs of both substance abusers and domestic violence abuse victims.
“Interventions are especially for those who express their alcoholism through violence against a partner. A lot of work goes into that and key to that are four things: Early intervention, the availing of ourselves as a department for inpatient treatment and community based treatment facilities and aftercare services where some of our social workers and psychologists follow up with the patients. We don’t just treat and put them out into society,” says Ngobese.
The department renders assistance through the help of social workers and centres, spending around R650m and more per year on interventions.
“The victim empowerment project provides social work services, counselling services that address victims of gender violence. We have around 16 shelters for abused women in the province and some of those shelters also cater to abused men. There are three. These shelters provide basic needs such as food, clothing and the most key thing, security. One of our shelters, The Saartjie Baartman centre in Athlone renders services in terms of the whole process of the criminal justice element for the women seeking justice or a court order. Sometimes even providing substance abuse treatment on site. Victims can also access other support like medical and legal assistance at all our shelters,” says Ngobese.
The Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse is another entity funded by the department in the fight against substance abuse and violence.
“Substance abuse plays a major role in domestic violence. In most cases it is the cause of domestic violence. The types of abuse are: Physical, psychological, emotional, sexual and financial. The victims are mostly wives or intimate partners, parents, children and/or grandparents. The abuser is often the husband or an intimate partner or family residing with the family, be that nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles or grandparents,” says Latifa Erasmus, social work coordinator for the network.
“Most of the casework and abuse cases are related to substance abuse. What is so sad is that the children are the silent witness and are suffering long-term damage, as they still need to cope with life,” says the network’s court coordinator Shahida Abrahams.
Recognising the need for intervention, police in the cluster have continued with specialised operations to curb the illegal sale of alcohol in the area.
“Liquor outlets and shebeen operations take priority in order to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, especially in disadvantaged communities. Related crimes are often the result of substance abuse, such as assault, child abuse and domestic violence,” says police spokesperson Captain Ian Williams.
This was further confirmed by officials and a victim in the area earlier this month (“‘Danger’ lurks in the bottle neck”, People’s Post, 17 July).
With this in mind, police held an operation, executing search warrants where two women and a man were arrested for the illegal sale of liquor. Police confiscated a total of 239F of alcohol.
“Alcohol is the third largest element treated so it is a complex and connected set of variables that we respond to as a department. If we are to really end the abuse of women and children, we have got to continue to work together and build partnerships in communities,” says Ngobese.
“This is government with NGOs that provide shelters and family therapy services and drug and alcohol services and of course the community playing their role. Community based organisations can keep track of families in the area. Maybe they know of a neighbour who is abusing his wife, speak up and speak out. Come to us as a department or go to the police, we can definitely assist. For the victims, make a case at the police station. No woman or man should suffer in silence and we encourage anyone to report a case of abuse.”