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Last edited: February 21, 2019

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Typically, the first responders to incidents of violence against women are law enforcement officers. The nature of this interaction has a great impact on the success or failure of legal system intervention going forward.  In fact, police response can greatly impact how successful any future assistance or intervention will be from any community agency.  Involving police in the coordinated response process will lead to better outcomes in court proceedings and increase victim/survivor safety.  Best practices dictate that police:

  • investigate violence against women cases as if the victim will not cooperate;
  • devote a similar percentage of training equitable to violence against women cases handled within the department;
  • vigorously enforce perpetrator compliance with protection orders (including custody, visitation, injunctive, criminal or civil orders for protection); and
  • adopt a “pro-arrest” or “pro-action” policy as it relates to complaints of violence against women.

Source:  National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Coordinated Community Action model for preventing and responding to intimate partner violence.

Historically, law enforcement officers were not specifically trained to respond to crimes of domestic violence, leaving officers ill-equipped to provide even basic safety guarantees.  Officers often discouraged victims/survivors from even lodging a formal complaint or charge against the perpetrator in the first place.  Police represented ‘the system’ and their response could determine whether victims would trust that system and seek any intervention at all.

Issues also arise when responding police officers or agencies have a connection to the perpetrator, often via a personal or professional relationship.  This too, has a chilling effect on a victim/survivor’s willingness not only to make an initial report, but also to follow through and cooperate with the legal process. (Diane Wetendorf, Domestic Violence by Police Officers; U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).


In some countries, police are non-responsive at best, and complicit at worst. There are documented instances of police contributing to victimizing victims/survivors through harassment, further abuse or the demand of sexual favors in exchange for taking the report. (Network Women's Program, Bending the Bow: Targeting Women's Human Rights and Opportunities, Open Society Institute 22-24 (2002)).

In addition to affecting victims’ confidence and trust in outside interveners of all disciplines, police participation in coordinated responses can promote victim safety and offender accountability in a number of ways. Understanding and embracing that first responders are a necessary link in the chain has increased victim/survivor safety, opened up a myriad of immediate areas of support, including access to shelters, mental health and advocacy, and cooperation with the legal system.  The immediate access to these services can be especially important when dealing with high risk victims, including victims with disabilities, as they are often the most vulnerable to the pressures of societal biases and victim blame and they lack the resources to proceed without system supports.

See the Security module for more information about the gaps in the police response to violence against women and girls and best practices in improving this response.  Additionally, see the Police and other law enforcement professionals section of Implementing laws in the Legislation module having to do with probation services through the court system.