SEXUAL harassment has recently plagued Wits University, but very few students know that a legal organisation on campus, partnered with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, is dedicated to helping victims of abuse.
Lawyers against Abuse, or LvA, is the brain-child of Professor Bonita Meyersfeld, associate lecturer and director of the Centre for Legal Studies. She sees the legal advice centre as a place that caters specifically to the needs of victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
The centre has two objectives. The first is to ensure that lawyers minimise the amount of trauma inflicted on clients. “Often lawyers are not mindful of the trauma these victims experience and asking clients too many questions can be re-traumatising,” said legal officer for LvA, Shayda Vance.[pullquote align=”right”]“Often lawyers are not mindful of the trauma these victims experience and asking clients too many questions can be re-traumatising,” [/pullquote]
Training and Facilitation
All the lawyers at LvA have been trained in trauma by Nataly Woollett and Sheetal Vallabh, the psychologists on the team. “When Boni started the organisation she reached out to everyone she thought would be interested and two psychologists were and they suggested the training,” said Vance.
The second objective has been to facilitate the victim’s interaction with hospitals, police and counsellors by forming partnerships with these bodies. They hope to prevent any further trauma caused by the fact that victims are often met with resistance from police and hospitals, said Vance.
“We’ll call and speak to the police or hospitals and at times accompany them if that’s what they want. We don’t just give them a number and send them on their way.”
Vance said the exposé of the sexual harassment around campus highlighted the need for the organisation because there were not enough places victims could go.
Fundraising and Volunteers
At the moment LvA is working out of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. LvA receives most of their clients through referrals because they are well-known in their networks. Their goal is to have an actual clinic by 2015 that will allow walk-ins.
The services provided by LvA are pro bono (free of charge). They are primarily funded through fundraising and they also receive individual donations. They hosted an annual art auction on Monday night at which they were able to raise R200 000.
LvA operates on a volunteer basis, and Vance said they needed more of them. “Anyone can volunteer in almost any field. We will find work for them to do.”