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Duties of police

The UN Handbook sets forth several recommendations for laws governing the police response to violence against women. Police should:

  • respond promptly to all requests for assistance and protection, even when the person who reports such violence is not the complainant/survivor;
  • assign the same priority to calls concerning cases of violence against women as to calls concerning other acts of violence; and
  • upon receiving a complaint, conduct a coordinated risk assessment of the crime scene and respond accordingly in a language understood by the complainant/survivor, including by:
    • interviewing the parties and witnesses, including children, in separate rooms to ensure there is an opportunity to speak freely;
    • recording the complaint in detail;
    • advising the complainant/survivor of her rights;
    • filling out and filing an official report on the complaint;
    • providing or arranging transport for the complainant/survivor to the nearest hospital or medical facility for treatment, if it is required or requested;
    • providing or arranging transport for the complainant/survivor and the complainant/survivor’s children or dependents, if it is required or requested; and
    • providing protection to the reporter of the violence.

Policymakers should consider the UK’s multi-agency guidelines for addressing cases of forced marriage as well as the police-specific tool, Dealing with Cases of Forced Marriage, when developing police protocols. Legislation should reflect the overriding message to all agencies of the “one chance rule:” if someone discloses to another person that they are being forced into marriage, that agency’s effective response is vital. These guidelines set forth the recommended police response in four situations of forced marriage: 1) a potential victim who fears a forced marriage; 2) a third party who reports that a victim has been taken overseas for purposes of a forced marriage; 3) a victim in a forced marriage, and; 4) an immigrant in a forced marriage and in the UK. Drafters should consider outlining specific guidelines for responding to different types of forced marriage cases. The following is a basic compilation of the UK guidelines, but drafters may wish to consult the guidelines for more detailed guidance.

Tools for Police:

Presentation by Detective Chris Boughey, Arizona Police Department, Presentation at the Second Annual Conference on Honor Violence and Forced Marriage (2012)

Honor Violence and Forced Marriage Training Curriculum (Powerpoint) (Webinar video) (The Aha Foundation, 2011)

When police meet with the victim, the following minimum standards are recommended in a police response protocol:

  • MEET with the victim alone in a safe and private location
  • REASSURE the victim about confidentiality and respect the victim’s desires
  • Establish a means of contacting them in the future and  a code word to correctly identify the person speaking as the victim
  • Provide the victim with all options and remedies available, which may include annulment, divorce, protection orders, harassment restraining orders
  • Inform the victim of her right to seek legal advice
  • Advise the victim not to travel abroad. Should the victim need to travel to another country, police should take the following appropriate precautions:
    • Obtain a copy of her passport, as well as information about the family (name and birth date of the victim, father’s name, overseas address, name of potential spouse and father-in-law, date of wedding, contact information for family in both countries), details of travel plans and companions, contact information for close relatives in the country of departure, approximate return date, contact information for a third person, safe way of contacting the victim while abroad, information only the victim would know. Police should also ask the victim to contact them upon return and obtain their written declaration that they authorize the police or other appropriate state actor to act on their behalf should they fail to return by a given date.
  • Provide the victim with personal safety advice

Once the police have met with a person reporting a case of forced marriage, the following minimum standards are recommended in a police response protocol:

  • Develop a safety plan should they be seen meeting with police
  • Record any injuries and coordinate a medical examination
  • Investigate whether there is a family history of forced marriage
  • Identify any crimes that may have been committed and obtain details of threats, abuse or other hostile actions
  • Record all decisions and the reasons for them
  • Consult with the forced marriage or other appropriate department
  • Refer to other appropriate protocols and procedures on other related issues, such as domestic violence, harassment, and criminal investigations,

Also, police should coordinate with other sectors and make referrals as appropriate. The following minimum

  • Refer the victim to child protection services if the victim is a child
  • Provide the victim with referrals to a forced marriage specialist, offering a choice of ethnicity/sex where possible, as well as referrals to appropriate service providers
  • Refer the victim to other appropriate service providers

Other actions include:

  • Obtaining the details of the person contacting the police, whether a third party or the victim
  • Obtain a photograph and other identification documents of the victim or potential victim
  • Assess the nature and level of risk to the victim
  • Obtain contact information for trusted friends and relatives of the victim
  • With regard to immigrant women in a forced marriage present in the UK, the police should use an authorized interpreter, be culturally sensitive to their needs, provide referrals to appropriate service providers, specialists in forced marriage if available, and to immigration legal services if necessary, document injuries and arrange for a medical examination.

Police protocols should take into account that survivors/complainants of forced marriage may have been sexually assaulted. The sexual assault may have occurred as marital rape, as an honor crime where the victim is forced to marry her rapist, or as part of the unlawful conduct used to bring about the forced marriage. An effective police protocol to responding to sexual assault victims is essential to prosecuting perpetrators and deterring future offences. Laws and policies should ensure police coordinate with other relevant actors, including prosecutors, victim support groups and other agencies and individuals involved in the case. Because police are responsible for collecting evidence, laws must provide for training for both new and existing police officers. (See:Sexual Assault; Honor Crimes, Security Sector)

When responding to survivors/complainants of forced marriage, police should be aware they may be victims of trafficking or mail order brides. (See Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls)

Finally, drafters should provide accountability mechanisms to ensure that police exercise due diligence in investigations and appropriate responses to victims or potential victims. Discriminatory attitudes toward women may result in a failure to investigate the case or respond effectively. Drafters should impose a penalty on law enforcement who fail to exercise due diligence in responding to cases of forced marriage. Philippine’s Anti-Violence against Women and their Children Act of 2004 fines local officials and law enforcement who do not report an act of violence (Section 30). In addition, training is necessary to ensure that police are sensitized to the issue and respond appropriately.

For more information see also the Security Sector Module.

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