A variety of strategies have been developed around the
world with the goal of improving police response to domestic violence.
Among the most important efforts at reform is the training
of police in the dynamics of domestic violence and how best
to protect victim safety and hold offenders accountable. In countries
in the CEE/CIS region that have initiated police training programs,
some advocates are reporting positive outcomes. For example, in
Slovenia, advocates wrote, that “[t]he police force is one
of the institutions that has contributed significantly to changing
attitudes towards domestic violence in recent years. The police
are well trained . . . In general, police awareness of domestic
violence has increased enormously which is partly a result of
good relationships with women’s NGO’s.” From
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women
2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women’s Rights
in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent
States 421 (2000).
Another strategy aimed at improving
the police response to domestic violence is the promotion of pro-arrest or
mandatory arrest polices. In cases involving simple or minor injuries, “probable
cause” arrest policies allow police officers to make arrests based on the
presence of evidence (such as damaged property, visible injuries, or a frightened
woman) that would lead to the conclusion that an assault occurred. Police
may make the arrest without witnessing the crime. Mandatory arrest policies
take this one step further and require the police to make an arrest at the
scene of a domestic assault. These policies are reinforced by research that
indicates arrest is an effective method of reducing domestic violence. They
are also seen by many as necessary to combat a long-standing and globally
prevalent police attitude that domestic violence is not a crime.
Many agree that the most effective
response to domestic violence occurs when arrest is combined with a coordinated
community response, in which key players such
as the criminal justice system, shelters, medical service providers, housing
agencies are knowledgeable and communicating with each other about domestic
Pro and mandatory arrest policies can, however, be problematic
in countries with a history of government oppression. As a women’s advocate
from Bolivia explained, “[i]n times when the state and its instruments have
penetrated the bedroom only to repress and pillage, such as during the dictatorships
which coerced the law to legitimize their authoritarian regimes, it is quite
difficult to publicly debate the problem of domestic violence without appearing
to endorse the misuse of power.” From Sonia Montana, Long Live the
Differences, with Equal Rights: A Campaign to End Violence Against Women in
Bolivia, in Freedom From Violence: Women’s Strategies From Around the World
213, 225 (Margaret Schuler ed., 1992). Similarly, in the CEE/CIS region, mistrust
of police and police corruption may be an obstacle the effectiveness of pro
and mandatory arrest policies.
In India and Brazil, NGOs have provided
the impetuous for the creation of women’s police stations. Although such stations
help to increase awareness of the issue and to change attitudes that condone
domestic violence, the success of such stations in increasing victim protection
or the conviction rates of batterers is unclear. The NGO, Promoting Women
in Development, notes that women’s police stations in India were unable to
address the issue of domestic violence effectively
due in part to constraints facing female
police officers, such as extremely poor working conditions, disrespect
from colleagues, few promotion opportunities, and low salary.
In addition, they point to a widespread lack of training, resources,
and standardized procedures throughout the police system to handle
domestic violence cases.
Isolated changes within the system
are unlikely to succeed unless these changes are coordinated with other
responses, such as the allocation of resources to various departments.
In addition, such
stations, like specialized courts,
are faced with the danger that they will be marginalized as stations
deal with “family,” as opposed to “real,” crimes.
From Promoting Women
in Development, Justice,
Change, and Human Rights: International Research and Responses to Domestic
16 (2000); Cheryl Thomas, Domestic Violence, in 1 Women and International
Human Rights Law 219, 233 (Kelly D. Askin & Dorean M. Koenig eds., 1999).
In the United States, advocates brought
legal action against the police for failure to protect women from domestic
violence by not responding to victims’ calls to police and not enforcing criminal
assault laws in cases of domestic violence. The first class action lawsuit,
Scott v. Hart, No. C-76-2395 (N.D. Cal. Filed Oct. 28, 1976), was filed against
the Oakland, California city police in 1976. Two months later, in Bruno v.
Codd, 396 N.Y.S.2d 974 (Sup. Ct. Special Term 1977), rev’d in part, appeal
dismissed in part, 407 N.Y.S.2d 165 (1978), aff’d, 47 N.Y.2d 582 (1979), activists
filed suit against the New York City Police for failure to comply with state
laws. Bruno v. Codd, for example, was a suit brought by an NGO on behalf of
twelve women who had received no assistance from the police after they were
attacked by their intimate partners. One of those women stated that the police
did not arrest her husband even after they watched him attempt to strangle
her. The lawsuits were settled when both police departments agreed to change
their practices in domestic violence cases.
From R. Emerson Dobash
& Russel P. Dobash, Women, Violence and Social Change 121 (1992); Cheryl
Thomas, Domestic Violence, in 1 Women and International Human Rights Law 219,
234 & n.69 (Kelly D. Askin & Dorean M. Koenig eds., 1999).
Though the lawsuits in the United
States were not based on international human rights law, police failure
to enforce laws to protect victims of domestic violence is clearly a
rights violation. Police, as agents of
the state, have an obligation under human rights law to apply the laws
without discriminating against women and to protect a woman’s right
to be free from violence. From Kenneth Roth, Domestic Violence
as an International Human Rights Issue, in Human Rights of Women: National
and International Perspectives
326 (1994); Dorothy Q. Thomas & Michele E. Beasley, Domestic Violence
as a Human Rights Issue, 15 H.R.Q. 36 (1993).