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Last edited: December 30, 2011

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  • The experience of reporting abuse to the police (or to the military, for example, in conflict and post-conflict situations) may be the first point of contact women and girl survivors have with the justice system, and has the potential to significantly affect their access to basic emergency survivor services (e.g. medical treatment, shelter, legal assistance, etc) as well as influence their decisions to file a report and pursue prosecution. To ensure that women receive quality support services from uniformed personnel, which respect their rights and decisions regarding their case, and which facilitates their access to related supports, it is important to have detailed guidelines, protocols and procedures to guide officers receiving the initial call for assistance or arriving at the scene of the incident.

  • A systematic and appropriate response, including meeting women’s immediate safety needs, is critical to avoid further harm to the victim(s) and increasing the probability of locating the perpetrator(s) of violence.

  • Protocols and guidelines need to be developed or reviewed to establish the technical standards and quality of service to be provided and to guide monitoring and supervision of their implementation. In order to be effective, it is crucial that such measures are institutionalized and systematically applied across all police stations or relevant security force units.

  • The absence of institutionalized protocols and procedures may perpetuate inappropriate responses to survivors, driven by personal attitudes and socially-tolerated practices that violate women’s human rights. For example, in some cases, police officers have encouraged women to use mediation procedures or urged the survivors of domestic violence to resolve the matter within the family rather than through the formal justice system. There have also been reports of police officers directing survivors of rape to marry the perpetrator to avoid social shame, humiliation or the risk of ‘honour killing’. Where police or military do not take reported cases seriously, their behaviour further victimizes women and girls and perpetuates impunity for perpetrators of violence (UN Women, 2011).

  • In order to ensure guidelines, protocols and procedures are tailored to the specific context and foster ownership among those using or affected by them, it is good practice to (Denham, 2008):
    • Engage men and women’s police/military associations in the development or reform of protocols to identify existing practices and change required.

    • Discuss protocols and procedures with community groups, including women’s organizations, survivors of violence, and other sectors such as health, education, justice (including formal and customary/informal) and penal systems through community police forums or other avenues, to better understand opportunities and barriers facing women’s protection and access to justice.

    • Establish a continuous review process to adapt protocols and procedures to reflect changing community interests and needs and to improve procedures based on what is working.

    • Guidelines, protocols and procedures should be tailored to specific forms of violence (noting they are most often developed for domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking) in line with the legislation and policies in place and based on the overall guiding principles of a survivor-centred and human rights-based approach.

  • Overall, guidelines for addressing incidents of violence should cover the following areas (UNODC, 2010, Sahota, J. and Ministry of the Solicitor General-Canada, 2000):

    • Specific legislative/regulatory requirements for different forms of violence (e.g. domestic violence law, law on rape and sexual violence, trafficking legislation)

    • Coordinating mechanisms between police and other service providers (judiciary, health professionals, civil society, shelters) and the specific mandate of the police in cases of violence

    • Specific training requirements (e.g. content, frequency) for the police and military on all forms of violence

    • Recruitment and role of trained investigators on the topic

    • Procedures for:

      • communications and dispatch personnel

      • initial response (including risk assessment and safety planning)

      • interviewing (survivors, including child victims; witnesses and perpetrators)

      • evidence collection and documentation

      • bail

      • victim assistance

    • Writing incident reports

    • Mandatory charge policy – mandating arrest of perpetrators on reasonable suspicion

    • Protection orders / barring orders and the role of police in protection of victims

    • Special provisions in cases involving criminal harassment, firearms, a member of the police service, children, high risk cases and repeat offenders

    • Multisectoral follow-up support for victims of domestic violence

    • Monitoring and supervision (e.g. mandatory reporting to a more senior officer)


Promising Practice: International Association of Chiefs of Police Model Policy Guidelines for Police responding to Domestic Violence Calls

In 2006, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a model policy to establish international guidelines for responding to domestic violence calls, where officers are expected:

  • To establish arrest and prosecution as a preferred means of police response to domestic violence.

  • To take appropriate action for any violation of permanent, temporary or emergency orders of protection.

  • To afford protection and support to adult and child victims of domestic violence. The chief of police or chief executive office can a) designate a person to make follow-up contact with the victims of domestic violence and inquire whether subsequent violence or intimidation has occurred; b) notify victims, following an arrest, of any conditions of bail and advise victims of their right to request revocation of bail from the state, county, or city attorney’s office if the conditions are violated; c) assign a trained person to assess the level of danger posed to the victim in order to inform perpetrator release decisions.

  • To promote the safety of law enforcement personnel responding to incidents of domestic violence.

  • To provide support and assistance to domestic violence victims or witnesses through cooperative efforts with community stakeholders such as law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, parole and probation officers, advocacy organizations, social service agencies, adult and child protective services, clergy, educators, government agencies, in order to prevent further abuse and harassment, or both.

  • To complete thorough investigations and effect arrest of the predominant aggressor upon the establishment of probable cause.

The model policy includes detailed procedures in the following areas:

  • Domestic Violence Prevention – through collaboration and training

  • Incident Response Protocols – communications; initial law enforcement officer response; incident documentation; arrest decision; arrest procedures

  • Victim Safety and Protection

  • Post-incident Follow-up

Source: International Association of Chiefs of Police (2006), Domestic Violence Model Policy, Virginia: International Association of Chiefs of Police.