ODIHR Helps Train Police and Change Attitudes to Combat Domestic Violence
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 11:57 AM

ODIHR helps train police and change attitudes to combat domestic violence

In some OSCE countries, what happens behind the closed doors of a home is seen as a private matter - even if it's violence against a woman. Often there are no legal measures for prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence, or for protecting victims. This means that there are too many cases where police and prosecutors intervene only at the point when serious assault charges can be brought.

Domestic violence is therefore an issue of concern to states across the OSCE region. It was one of the main topics of the 'special day on gender and security' at the OSCE's annual human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw in September and October.

Making it a crime

A prerequisite in tackling the problem is to criminalize domestic violence and provide measures of protection for victims through legislation - such as restraint orders.

"Even where legislation exists, state authorities often fail to act to prevent or prosecute cases of domestic violence," says ODIHR Gender Adviser Tiina Ilsen. "Raising awareness of the issue and changing the attitudes of the authorities is therefore one of the biggest challenges."

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is working to help states prevent domestic violence, prosecute perpetrators and address victims' needs.

The ODIHR's approach focuses on three areas: 

  • sensitizing police, prosecutors and judges to the fact that domestic violence is a crime;
  • providing training for law-enforcement agencies and health-care providers to play an effective role in preventing and combating domestic violence; and
  • promoting co-operation between law-enforcement bodies and NGOs on strategies to combat such crimes.

Training police

In Azerbaijan and Georgia, the ODIHR is working closely with police authorities and women's NGOs. Drawing on the Austrian model of developing facilities to assist victims, it has organized workshops for police officers, health-care workers and civil society organizations on legal and organizational aspects of intervention centres, and co-operation methods among social workers and police structures.

In Azerbaijan, which is introducing its first piece of legislation on domestic violence, the ODIHR and the NGO Symmetria have organized awareness-raising sessions for more than 200 district-level police officers in the regions since last year.

They have also developed, in co-operation with Austrian police experts, a new two-day training course for both new cadets and serving police officers, which takes place at the Police Academy in Baku. The course, which started in February, focuses on best practices for police intervention and prevention.

Heinz Drobesch, Director of Parliamentary Administration of the Styrian State Parliament in Austria, has been closely involved in these projects. He was formerly an expert with the Austrian police department and Interior Ministry where he authored a law on protection against domestic violence.

Speaking on the sidelines of the HDIM, where he moderated a session on gender and security, Drobesch explained how the course is run. It begins with explaining the meaning of violence and describing its different types, and continues with examples of how to intervene and a comparison of how police deal with the issue in other countries.

"We can do more if we see this problem as a security issue, and not as private matter that should be removed from the state," he says. "After a few sessions, I had the impression that they saw it as discrimination and the violation of human rights - it is at least one success that police officers have recognized this."

Bringing the issue out in the open

"As domestic violence is not an openly discussed topic in Azerbaijan, police officers tend to approach the subject cautiously," says Kamilla Dadasheva, Chair of Symmetria. "When the various phases of domestic violence and its psychological effects on victims are explained, they begin to better understand cases from their own experience. They realize why a victim might not have been co-operative, and what actions the police took that could have been unhelpful."

Part of the new course also asks police officers to suggest what they would need to act more effectively in cases of domestic violence. Ideas have included creating emergency hotlines, developing closer co-operation with NGOs specializing in victim assistance, and increasing the number of women in the police force.

Working with government

Since Symmetria is working directly with police officers as well as participating in strategy meetings with the Ministry of Interior, it is well-placed to ensure that the needs of police officers are adequately addressed in legislation.

"We have been able to develop lines of communication and co-operation with the Ministry of Interior. NGOs are often seen as an 'opposition' in many policy fields, but here we are having some real influence," says Dadasheva. "The police service has also become a more open organization, and is more willing to work with NGOs on this issue."

Published in: "ODIHR Helps Train Police and Change Attitudes to Combat Domestic Violence," Press Release, OSCE, 19 October 2007.