People who experience sexual abuse or gender-based violence oftentimes do not know what to do or where to report in the immediate aftermath. From health care and counselling services to legal aid and basic needs like clothing, food and housing, survivors of violence require a lot of support to heal, both physically and mentally, and to navigate the criminal justice system.
The One Stop Centre in Mbabne was launched in 2013 by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to help address these issues. This innovative initiative connects the following four sectors: healthcare practitioners, police services, legal institutions and the non-profit service providers. Together, they effectively deliver vital services to survivors of violence, all in one spot.
On-site, there are two police officers, one nurse, one prosecutor and one counsellor, provided by SWAGAA’s Care and Support department. SWAGAA played a key role in the establishment of the centre and, along with counselling services for adults, offers specialized counselling for children. SWAGAA’s child-counsellor helps train magistrates on how to interact with children in the courtroom, emotionally prepares children for court and attends court proceedings with child-clients, along with providing ongoing counselling services.
Acknowledging Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Futhi Gamedze, a member of the Sexual Offences Unit through the Ministry of Justice, believes that the impacts of the One Stop Centre on survivors who access its services are huge. Beyond simply providing the essential services needed after a violent attack, the One Stop Centre also acts as a positive acknowledgement from the community that these forms of violence exist in Eswatini.
In a country where ‘tibi tednlu’ – the culture of family silence – is still very pervasive, having the One Stop Centre available to the public is a critical component to ensuring that people report these crimes.
Challenges for Rural Communities
For people who do not live near the One Stop Centre in Mbabane, reporting sexual and gender-based violence poses many challenges. Going to a local police station may threaten a survivor’s anonymity, particularly in small, close-knit communities. Travelling to a different police station or to the One Stop Centre may not be an option for people – it may be too expensive, they may not know how to navigate public transportation, the idea of leaving their home community may too intimidating, they may not be able to leave school or work and so on.
Sadly, for those in rural communities, access to important services for survivors of violence is limited. As a result, cases often go unreported and people’s mental and physical health unattended while perpetrators walk free.
More One Stop Centres Set to Open
The success of the One Stop Centre in Mbabane is proof that centres like it are needed all across the country. Two more One Stop Centres are expected to open this year, one in Manzini and one Lubombo region.
This is a great step in improving services for survivors and increasing the reporting of crimes, while at the same time further acknowledging the that sexual and gender-based violence is common throughout Eswatini. More is still needed, however, to ensure people in rural communities have the same access to these services.