The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 (“the Act”) was enacted to recognise that domestic violence is a serious social evil. Because there is a high incidence rate of domestic violence within South Africa and victims of domestic violence are among the most vulnerable members of society, the Act seeks to afford the maximum protection from domestic abuse that the law can provide.
The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill (“the Bill”) was introduced to Parliament in September 2020.
The Bill amends and inserts certain definitions, and further provides for the manner in which acts of domestic violence and matters related thereto must be dealt with by certain functionaries, persons and Governmental departments.
The definition of “harassment” in the Act and in the Bill differ significantly.
The definition of “harassment” in the Act is as follows:
‘“harassment” means engaging in a pattern of conduct that induces the fear of harm to a complainant including—
In terms of the Bill, “harassment” now means—
‘directly or indirectly engaging in conduct that the respondent knows or ought to know—
(i) following, watching, pursuing or accosting the complainant or a related person, or loitering outside of or near the building or place where the complainant or a related person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be;
(ii) engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at the complainant or a related person, by any means whether or not conversation ensues; or
(iii) sending, delivering or causing the delivery of letters, packages, facsimiles, electronic mail, texts, photos, videos, recordings or other objects to the complainant or a related person, or leaving them where they may be found by, given to, or brought to the attention of, the complainant or a related person; or
The most prominent changes in the definition of “harassment” are as set out below.
To summarise, the Bill introduces several changes to the definition of ‘harassment’ in the Act. These changes are positive, as they widen the ambit of ‘harassment’ to cover more situations where conduct could amount to harassment, thereby allowing a court to adequately deal with a perpetrator.
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