“I have an ex who is harassing me in person and on social media after we broke up a few weeks ago. The more I make it clear to him that we are done the more aggressive he gets and the uglier comments he makes on social media. I’m really scared to go out and run into him and I am so ashamed of everything he is saying on social media. I want him to stop, but I don’t have the money to go and see a lawyer. Can you tell me what to do?”
The sad thing is that these types of situations are becoming more and more prevalent, and often escalate until it gets completely out of hand. You are justified in being concerned.
To assist persons to deal with situations like this the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 allows you to obtain a protection order which can assist to stop your ex from continuing with his conduct or risk being criminally liable for contravening the protection order.
Although it remains useful to be able to ask your attorney for assistance, the Act caters for the individual to obtain a protection order themselves, following the basic steps outlined below:
Firstly, there must be a form of “domestic relationship” between the parties. This is defined quite wide in the Act and caters for a range of relationships that would be included under such a relationship beyond the normal instances of a married couple. It would include persons in a romantic relationship (past or present), family members and relatives, and even persons that live or were living together whether in a relationship or not.
If a domestic relationship existed, which it appears to be in your case, the next step will be for you to be able to show that the conduct amounts to “domestic violence”. Again, the definition is quite broad and can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, intimidation, stalking and harassment.
From what you have said it does sound like there are grounds to show that the conduct of your ex could amount to domestic violence. This means you can consider approaching a court for a protection order, which is a relatively simple and cost-effective process.
Every Magistrates Court in South Africa makes provision for granting of protection orders, and in some areas, you will even find specific specialist courts that deal specifically with domestic violence cases.
Your first step is to go to the relevant court and fill in an application form that you can get at the court. Here you must provide the reasons why you are asking for a protection order. Keep in mind the definitions of domestic relationship and violence discussed above when filling in the form. Then arrange to have the form commissioned at your local police station if the court cannot assist you with this and submit the completed and commissioned form at the court.
You will then be requested to appear before a magistrate to address the court on why you are requesting the protection order in order for the court to consider whether to grant the order or not. The Magistrate may then either:
- Refuse to grant any order if there are no grounds for the protection order; or
- Issue a notice to show cause but without an interim protection order. This notice will be served on the other party with a return date for them to also appear in court and give reasons for the protection order not to be made final; or
- Grant an interim protection order. This is already a protection order of which notice will also be served on the other party and containing a court date upon which the other party must provide reasons why the interim protection order should not be made a final order
Should a protection order be granted and the party against whom it is granted contravenes it, you can approach your nearest police station and provide them with the order as well as information on how the person contravened the order. Following this the party in question can be charged with contravention of a protection order and can even be arrested and detained as the protection order document is tantamount to a warrant of arrest.
As a side note: You can also apply to the court for a protection order in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011. The Act’s definition of ‘harassment' includes directly or indirectly engaging in conduct that the respondent knows or ought to know causes harm or inspires the reasonable belief that harm may be caused to the complainant by unreasonably engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at the complainant by any means, whether or not conversation ensues (our emphasis). Under this act, is not a requirement for the complainant to be in some sort of a relationship with the respondent.