Educating police officers for greater protection of survivors
Police officers are among the first points of contact for women in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) when domestic violence escalates.
Their professional and human approach to the survivor often determines the future steps, both by the woman who reported the violence, and other relevant institutions.
Seeking to achieve a harmonized police response across BiH and contribute to the protection of the rights of survivors, UN Women BiH with the support of Sweden has been supporting ministries of the interior since 2019, by developing training curricula and modules. This opens the path for police institutions to take care of training and sensitizing their officers on topics of domestic violence and gender-based violence independently in the future.
So far, one hundred police officers have taken part in the training and acquired the skills for an appropriate response to reported cases of domestic violence. In addition to supporting them to better understand their duties, the training introduced a range of teaching resources and educational references enabling these police officers to share their knowledge with other colleagues in the future.
This approach ensures a long-term resource, as police officers are trained in line with standardized methodology and regulations and international standards, says Nina Karađinović, Project Coordinator with Lucid Linx, implementing the UN Women’s project. “Using the Manual for Training of Police Officers on Response to Cases of Domestic Violence and Violence against Women, the trainers are fully prepared to replicate the training in the forthcoming period, with periodic updates reflecting changes in the legislation and developments in practice.”
Survivors who approach the police are seeking protection from the system and expect to receive help and support. This signals there is a certain level of trust, which must not be betrayed in any way. If the survivor does not receive the support she needs during the first contact, her trust in the system decreases, says Ms. Karađinović. “This can discourage the survivor in question and other survivors from reporting violence and refusing to testify, which is of immense importance in the criminal proceedings.”
Non-governmental organizations in BiH who have been working with survivors at community level reinforce the argument for strengthening capacities in this area. These organizations frequently observe that persons exposed to domestic violence are reluctant to seek help from institutions which are supposed to protect them, in particular the police.
This can be attributed to negative experience most survivors have had with the response of police officers, explains Jasna Zečević, the president of Vive Žene, the association advocating for a better status of women survivors of violence since 1994 in the Tuzla Canton* and across BiH. “Even though the legal framework in BiH clearly defines the roles of the police, many questions remain about the support and assistance to victims of gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence.”
From lack of understanding towards responsiveness and standardized approach
Training covers, in addition to numerous important segments such as provision of immediate protection, implementation of protective measures and vulnerability risk assessment of the survivor, sensitization of the police officers on equality and challenges traditional gender roles. The experience so far showed that even the trainees who show no consideration for survivors at the beginning of the training, by the end of the program show greater responsiveness and consistency in ensuring that all reported cases of violence are followed with a request for a protective measure.
In the interest of a coherent and adequate knowledge transfer, it is important to engage trainers whom police officers trust. That is why the program includes professionals with many years of experience in working on domestic violence cases and cases of violence against women, as well as in investigating this type of crime, its causes, and consequences.
One of the regular trainers is Goran Telalović, a retired officer with 20 years of experience as both an officer and a commander. He spent the last seven years of active service as a head of the Education Section in the Ministry of the Interior of the Zenica-Doboj Canton.* Legal amendments which were necessary to comply with the Istanbul Convention brought many changes. Therefore, says Telalović, training of the police force is particularly important.
“Laws get adopted, published in official gazette- and some read them and others do not. We in the Balkans have this tendency to self-assess the strengths and weaknesses of the law, which provision should be applied or not, and we make these choices at our own discretion. A person who interprets the law in such manner transfers the knowledge wrongfully to his/hers new colleague. There were many novelties introduced by the Istanbul Convention, requirements became stricter in relation to domestic violence situations, and we came to realize that things were not functioning properly.”
One of the indicators of the effectiveness of this type of training are the results of anonymous pre- and post- training tests, which demonstrate multiple improvements in the levels of knowledge in respective fields, in particular those pertaining to survivor-sensitive approach and vulnerability assessment.
Progress also seen in the field
Time and additional studies are required to reach definitive conclusions about the positive impact of the training of police officers in the field and increase of survivors’ trust in the police. However, some impact of the training and more consistent application of regulations are already visible.
“We see this impact in increased number of reports of domestic violence and violence against women, as well as in considerable increase in requests for protective measures”, says Nina Karađinović.
Association Vive Žene also confirms visible results of the work with police officers. They often collaborate with the police within their activities, and the trainings and promotional campaigns supported by the European Union and UN Women on enhancing procedures in domestic violence cases have made significant impact. One of them is reflected in the fact that in 2021 number of requests for protective measures filled by police officers per reported cases increased to 59%, from only 20% three years ago.
The training of police officers in BiH will continue, and the plan is to ensure at least fifty additional police officers trained. Integration of modules on response to cases of domestic violence and violence against women in the regular curriculum for cadets of the Police Academy in Sarajevo will be another major step. This will be an opportunity for young police officers to learn about the importance of their role in supporting the survivors from the very start of their careers in the force.
*The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of ten cantons.