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General considerations

  • The traditionally male-dominated environment which characterizes many security institutions can result in a limited awareness of the causes and consequences of violence against women and that such violence is an abuse of human rights under national and international law. Police and armed services may not be sufficiently aware of the legislation, nor their own role in preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Very often, such violence is accepted as a norm at the wider societal and community-levels, and the related perception that it is a private family matter is also visible within security institutions. Training for security personnel on gender, women’s rights and the prevention of and response to violence against them is essential to build the knowledge, skills and capacities of individual officers and units to deliver on their legal and policy commitments.

  • Basic training on gender sensitivity, women’s rights and gender-based violence should be mandatory for all police and military personnel, not just those in specially-mandated domestic or sexual violence units. Training on women’s rights, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment should be institutionalized into police and military academy curricula as well as professional development courses for staff already in-service. Personnel of all ranks need to understand and be able to appropriately address the issue according to their role within the sector. Without proper training, lower ranking officers who deal directly with women and girls may discourage survivors from seeking support and may fail to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions; while leadership may overlook discriminatory institutional practices and other violations taking place. Those involved with policy making will also need training to ensure that they are able to develop policies which are focused on the needs of survivors and fully understand the impacts of any policy measure on them (Council of Europe, 2008).

  • Training should be appropriately targeted at personnel at different stages and levels. Given the hierarchical nature of security institutions, separate training sessions using different approaches and with different content may be required for personnel of different ranks and at different stages of their career. For example, training for senior staff might focus on their overall management and supervisory roles and responsibilities, while training for administrative staff may focus on appropriately recording or updating data on cases, ensuring confidentiality.

  • Specialized training is also important. Personnel from family protection units, women and children’s support units or providing frontline response and investigative services to survivors will need more in-depth specialist training in a range of areas, including operational policies and protocols such as risk assessment and safety planning; response protocols for domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of violence; survivor protection; interview techniques; evidence collection procedures and standards; service provision, such as emergency contraception and PEP (where appropriate); and referrals, among other components of a comprehensive response. If there are no specialist units, all personnel who are in direct contact with survivors of violence should receive specialized training. 

  • Training should vary in its structure and focus (e.g. broad vs. highly specialized), and should be designed for both pre-service and in-service personnel. It should be targeted at different ranks / grades of officers over multiple sessions. It can be delivered in a phased approach, building skills over time or as a regular periodic training activity, or may be conducted at a minimum once. Planning and delivery of training should be developed with careful consideration of the priorities for improving support to survivors and preventing violence, as well as the realistic context in which police or armed forces are operating. For example, this may require providing guidance on alternative solutions in reaching/ referring survivors to services where transport may be lacking.

  • Training must be complemented by and in support of broader system reforms. Experience demonstrates that even a successful training initiative with police cannot be sustained if structural issues within the institution and society at large preclude personnel from putting into practice the new knowledge and skills they have acquired. Training initiatives will be most successful when they build on the existing legal and policy achievements to address gender-based violence and help to advance progress in  the broader social and institutional changes needed to support more gender-responsive practices with survivors.