Special police units/designated officers

  • The establishment of specialized units or designated officers to respond to cases of violence against women is an important tool for effectively implementing laws that seek to end violence against women. The U.N. Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women recommends that laws should designate and strengthen “specialized police units ... on violence against women, and provide adequate funding for their work and specialized training of their staff.” (Sec. 3.2.4) Violence against women cases can often be complex and require special skills in recognizing the gendered aspects of crime patterns, working with victims and their families, dealing with perpetrators, and coordinating with multiple agencies. Developing these skills requires specialized education, training, and experience.


CASE STUDY – Women’s Police Stations in Latin America

In the 1980s and 1990s, few Latin American nations had laws on violence against women. In response to growing civil society activism on women’s rights and the developing international legal framework of treaties on violence against women, some governments began to establish Women’s Police Stations, despite lack of laws. In Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Peru these specialized police units actually preceded much legal reform on violence against women. The first station was established in Brazil, which now has more than 400 Women’s Police Stations. Women’s Police Stations are focused on preventing and investigating violence, receiving complaints, and protecting women. Women’s police stations in Ecuador are justice administration entities so they have the authority to punish violence, issue protection measures, and order reparations. In Brazil, the women’s police stations now have the authority to remit cases to the corresponding court to issue protection measures. Similarly, the women’s police stations in Brazil, Nicaragua, and Peru have the authority to enforce protection measures issued by the courts. See: Nadine Jubb, Regional Mapping Study of Women’s Police Stations in Latin America (2008).


CASE STUDY – Zambia’s Victim Support Unit

Amendments in 1999 to Zambia’s Police Act mandated victim support units at all police stations to focus on rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and trafficking as well as certain other crimes. With such heavy responsibilities, funding and adequate human resources have been a challenge for Zambia’s Victim Support Unit. Nevertheless, the Victim Support Unit has engaged in innovative activities to provide services to victims. Of 430 victim support officers, 320 are women. The Victim Support Unit collaborated on the opening of a coordinated response center for victims of sexual violence which allows victims to receive medical, psychological and police assistance in one location. Victim Support Unit officers also were trained to provide emergency contraception to victims of rape and defilement crimes in cases when they could not immediately access health services. This special unit also has collaborated with women’s civil society groups to produce reports on violence against women and children in Zambia. See: World Report 2008 – Zambia, Human Rights Watch; Zambia: Curbing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (2008), Human Rights Watch; Rebecca Mushota, Emergency pill for victims of rape, defilement, Times of Zambia; Pambazuka Gender Justice and Local Government Summit Awards (2010).