Within the security sector, police may be the first point of contact for survivors of violence and it is critical that they are equipped to respond appropriately and sensitively to the needs and rights of women and girls. Police services are a central part of securing the immediate safety of survivors and serve an important role in holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Responses to survivors by police and other uniformed personnel can either encourage women and girls to report an incident of violence or deter them from seeking police assistance altogether. In addition to immediate and ongoing protection (e.g. in response to repeat incidences and orders of protection), police services include investigation and proper documentation of cases.
- Institutionalizing training for all police in-service as well as pre-service training for recruits.
- Establishing specific units or focal points (‘gender desks’) within offices/stations, with especially trained staff as a short-term strategy (until institutionalized change can be implemented across the sector, including in pre-service training). Such units may be all-female or mixed-sex groups of officers.
- Developing one-stop multi-service units staffed with police to assist survivors reporting an incident of violence to access immediate related health, shelter and legal support services.
- Strengthening partnerships between the police and NGOs serving survivors.
- Supporting community policing where formal services and resources are limited. Within communities, local networks of men and women can serve as a voluntary alarm system and support survivors to report on violence and seek appropriate care.
- Promoting increases in the number of female staff (at all levels) who are trained to address violence against women and girls by supporting recruitment and personnel policies that do not discriminate against women and include flexible family policies to help retain and promote female staff, among other measures that advance system-wide gender equality.
- Acquiring commitment of leadership or top management personnel is critical and should be prioritized as an investment to ensure effective police responses to address violence against women and girls.
- Community outreach is important to raise awareness of police responses, improve trust with police and support zero tolerance of violence against women.
- Coherent and uniform policies, procedures and protocols on the human rights of women and violence against women and girls should be integrated within law enforcement systems.
- Protocols should be developed on the obligations of law enforcement officials, including protection and response processes, case documentation and providing effective referrals to survivors of violence.
- Security sector `duty-bearers’ (e.g. police, military, other uniformed personnel), from the highest level to administrative desk personnel, may not be sensitive to gender issues; aware of their obligations under the law; or knowledgeable on appropriate responses to dealing with survivors and perpetrators. Ideally, police should have pre- and in-service training to prevent re-victimization and encourage women and girls to seek assistance. Without proper training, police may discourage survivors from seeking support and may fail to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
- Gender desks, specialized units, focal points for gender-based violence in police stations, and all-women police stations may increase reporting and expand women’s access to services (e.g. counselling, emergency contraceptives, post-exposure prophylaxis, legal aid and other social and economic supports) in the short-term, but only if they are adequately financed and staffed.
- As a regional review on in gender desks or specialized units Latin America (where they were first instituted) shows, in the long-term:
- Conviction rates have not increased;
- These units are not part of a system-wide approach and are not supported by adequate investment in training and professional resources;
- They isolate responsibility for addressing violence to specific staff/ sections, forcing women to go to only these units, and thereby marginalizing gender-based violence from the responsibility of all police;
- Female officers do not necessarily have better attitudes towards abused women;
- Weak judicial responses and impunity for perpetrators lead to low prosecution rates despite increased reports; and,
- Such stations are particularly challenging to implement in rural areas given limited staff and infrastructure to respond adequately to the needs of survivors. (Jubb and Izumino, 2003; Morrison et al., 2007)
- Security sector reform offers an opportunity to integrate violence against women across the sector in an institutionalized manner.
- Interventions with security sector institutions (such as police) require a significant time investment to get institutional buy-in and reach a critical mass of police.
- Community distrust of police and impunity for crimes committed by police needs to be addressed (particularly in conflict or post-conflict situations) alongside efforts to develop training and response protocols in order to improve demand and use of police services by survivors.
See the full module on working with the Security Sector.
Regional Mapping Study of Women’s Police Stations in Latin America (Jubb et al./CEPLAES and IDRC, 2008). Available in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit (Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2008). Twelve tools and practice notes available in English and French.
Police Response to Crimes of Sexual Assault: A Training Curriculum, 2nd Edition (Hunter, Bentley and Mills/Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse, 2006). Available in English.
Commonwealth Manual on Human Rights Training for Police (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2006). Available in English.
Successfully Investigating Acquaintance Sexual Assault: A National Training Manual for Law Enforcement (The National Center for Women and Policing, 2001). Available in English
India Manual for Training Police on Anti Human Trafficking (UNODC, 2008). Available in English.
Community Policing To Reduce and Prevent Violence Against Women: Training Curriculum and Resource Guide (Police Executive Research Forum). Available in English.
Child Domestic and Gender Based Violence and Related Abuses Training Manual (Rwanda Police Force, 2008). Available in English.
Department of Defense Partners with Men Can Stop Rape on Sexual Assault Prevention Campaign. Available in English.
Recruiting & Retaining Women A Self-Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement (National Center for Women and Policing.) Available in English.
The Policing Violence Against Women and Children Training Manual and Reader (Southern African Regional Police Chief’s Co-operation Organisation and Institute for Security Studies, 2003). Available in English.
Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims: A 21st Century Strategy (International Police Chiefs Association, 2008). Available in English.