Role of Police
last updated 3 February 2009

Throughout the CEE/FSU region, police are often the first members of the law enforcement system encountered by victims of domestic violence. Many police in the region, however, receive little or no training on how work with such victims. As a result, police frequently do not respond to cases of domestic violence, rarely remove abusers from the home and typically try to discourage and dissuade women from making formal complaints. In part due to societal attitudes about domestic violence and in part related to budgetary constraints, police officers often treat domestic violence cases as "unimportant," not worthy of police attention, and best resolved within the family. Police inefficiency and apathy also contribute to women's inability to prosecute their cases on their own. Police may refuse to cooperate when asked to give testimony in court.

As the Network Women's Program reports, women in the region "face numerous obstacles in reporting domestic violence and rape, including indifference or hostility from authorities, the refusal of police to take statements or their failure to respond to emergency calls." In some countries, in fact, the police may themselves be "part of the problem, taking advantage of victims rather than helping them." One NGO in Kazakhstan reported that girl who called the police for help with her father, who was abusing her, was asked by an officer for sexual favors in return for his assistance. From Network Women's Program, Bending the Bow: Targeting Women's Human Rights and Opportunities, Open Society Institute 22-24 (2002).

These problems with police are not unique to the CEE/FSU region. Tracing and comparing the progress of the battered women's movement in Britain and the United States, Dobash and Dobash identified the attitude and conduct of police as one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome. From R. Emerson Dobash & Russel P. Dobash, Women, Violence and Social Change 121 (1992).

In many countries in CEE/FSU, people who provide services to battered women identify police and military officers as perpetrators of violence. Women in Macedonia reported that they do not call the police because they fear experiencing harassment or brutality from them. From MAHR, Domestic Violence in Macedonia 17 (1998). Many pointed out that when perpetrators have a connection to the police, the police are even less likely to respond to a call for intervention. Sources in the region also identify corruption, lack of funding for police and society's general mistrust of police as factors in police inability to effectively protect victims of domestic violence.

Globally, there have been many reform efforts targeted at the law enforcement response to domestic violence. The goals of any reform effort aimed at police response should be increased victim safety and offender accountability. It should be noted that the success of any strategy is highly dependent on a variety of social dynamics unique to each country. In addition, it is very important that strategies for improving the police response to domestic violence be implemented within the context of a coordinated community response. See the 2008 United Nations expert group report recommendation on police action in domestic violence cases in the model framework entitled, "Good practices in legislation on violence against women." For the Russian version of the recommendations of "Good practices in legislation on violence against women, click here.

Many of the reports on domestic violence in CEE/FSU produced by The Advocates for Human Rights, as well as the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights's report, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (2000) (retrieve country sections by entering the name of the country and the year of publication), discuss police response to domestic violence.

For a list of research and reports on domestic violence and law enforcement, click here.