UNODC & UN Women Take a Survivor-Centred Approach to Police Services During Global Pandemic

© Robert Kneschke

Vienna (Austria), 1 February 2021 — The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with UN Women and the International Association of Women Police (IAWP), launched a new Handbook on Gender-Responsive Police Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence.

The Handbook provides practical, peer-to-peer guidance for police to enable an effective and gender-sensitive response to violence against women and girls, complementing already existing global and country-specific training materials for law enforcement.

In the past 12 months, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, intimate partner violence reports have risen sharply across the globe, with calls to helplines increasing five-fold in some countries. Women and girls are now often ‘locked down’ with their abusers, cut off from family and friends, and police and justice services are under pressure to ensure women and girls can access support, especially when traditional pathways have been shut down due to restrictions or social distancing measures.

Police have also had to shift their focus to enforcing quarantines and increasingly severe ‘stay at home’ measures, and many courts have had to close completely, resulting in postponed hearings and a backlog of cases. With so many police resources needed to ensure public health measures are followed, protection orders may not have been enforced.

UNODC Executive Director, Ghada Waly, welcomed UN Women's leadership in developing this much-needed tool to protect victims and improve access to justice for women and girls subject to violence.

"The Handbook will further reinforce the technical assistance UNODC and other UN partners provide on the ground to build police capacities and strengthen reforms that are underway in many countries,” Ms. Waly said. “Our combined efforts can support police and institutions of justice to be more responsive to women and girls, especially those who are most marginalized and at greater risk of violence."

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, also commended the joint effort. “We know that a positive initial contact experience with police is crucial for survivors of violence as they navigate complex justice systems. Survivors must feel that their complaint is being taken seriously from the moment they make contact,” she offered.

The Handbook provides more in-depth guidance on areas such as police responses during crises like COVID-19; gender-responsive police investigations (including being more perpetrator-focused); prevention of violence against women and girls; survivor-centred approaches; promoting positive masculinities and emerging issues, like online violence and exploitation.

The Handbook will be rolled out in pilot countries to measure progress and impact with efforts focused on building trust between the police and local communities, improving collaboration with other service providers, and supporting police middle managers to deliver survivor-centered approaches, such as placing the obligation on perpetrators to leave the home, not victims and survivors.