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Overview and key provisions

Last edited: December 30, 2011

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  • Security institutions need to be given a clear mandate to play an effective role in violence prevention and response. This mandate should be enshrined in national legislation and in alignment with relevant international and regional human rights instruments and standards, which establish specific responsibilities for the sector to uphold the human rights of women, including in the elimination of violence against them.

  • The role and responsibilities of security institutions in addressing gender-based violence may be established through a variety of measures in the legal framework, for example, decrees, provisions in penal codes, dedicated laws on violence against women and girls or on specific forms of violence.

Key provisions

Key provisions that need to be included in national legislation should cover the powers and responsibilities of police and armed forces, upholding specific standards of conduct by security personnel. Legislation should also reinforce a multisectoral response, with explicit obligations for security institutions to coordinate with other agencies providing services to survivors and women and girls at risk of violence (United Nations, 2009; United Nations Economic and Social Council, 2010; and Advocates for Human Rights and UN Women, 2010).

  • Legislation defining mechanisms which will or should be put in place to enable the police and armed forces to implement their duties to prevent and respond to violence against women may establish or require:

    • the creation or strengthening of specialized units and/or personnel within the police and/or armed forces to deal with violence against women and girls, and provision of adequate funding for their work and specific training of their staff (UN Handbook 3.2.4).

      Example:Spain’s Organic Act 1/2004 of 28 December on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence requires the establishment of “dedicated units within the national law enforcement and security agencies specialising in the prevention of gender violence and supervising the enforcement of the legal measures adopted” (Art. 31).
    • all members of the police or armed forces to undergo training in women and children’s rights and/or violence against women.
      Example:The Philippines’ Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (2004) requires that the National Police establish an education and training program for police officers and barangay officials to enable them to properly handle cases of violence against women and their children (SEC 42). This should cover:

      a. the nature, extent and causes of violence against women and their children;
      b. the legal rights of, and remedies available to, victims of violence against women and their children;
      c. the services and facilities available to victims or survivors;
      d. the legal duties imposed on police officers to make arrest and to offer protection and assistance; and
      e. techniques for handling incidents of violence against women and their children that minimize the likelihood of injury to the officer and promote the safety of the victim or survivor.
    • the establishment of specific protocols and procedures to determine the response of the police or armed forces to cases of violence (e.g. investigation protocol to ensure proper collection of evidence while minimizing intrusion into the life of the survivor; interviewing guidelines to take into account the safety of the survivor and prevent re-victimization; risk assessments to ensure the protection of the victim, etc.).

    • relevant Minister(s), in collaboration with police to develop (within a specified time period) regulations, protocols, guidelines, instructions, directives and standards, including standardized forms, for the comprehensive and timely implementation of the legislation (UN Handbook, 3.2.6). The promulgating body should consult and work closely with non-governmental organizations and victims’ advocates. Overall, these policies should seek to mainstream the police response, so that law enforcement uses the same trainings, educational materials and risk assessment model.

    • the establishment of codes of conduct for the police and/or armed forces with respect to the prevention of discrimination, sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse by officers.

    • the development and implementation of coordination strategies amongst agencies and actors involved in the prevention of an response to violence against women (e.g. police, judiciary, health sector, NGOs).

    • mechanisms of oversight and accountability of the police and armed forces to scrutinize their performance with respect to addressing violence against women and hold them to account.

    • provision of mechanisms of psychological support and mentoring to police officers to prevent their vicarious victimization.

    • an increase in the number of female staff (at all levels) who are trained to address violence against women, including through the establishment of measures to recruit, retain and promote female staff (UN Handbook).

    • the application of pro-arrest and pro-prosecution policies in cases of violence against women where there is probable cause that the crime has occurred. This may include consideration of a probable cause standard of arrest, which allows police to arrest and detain an offender if they determine that there is probable cause that a crime has occurred even if they did not witness the offence (Minnesota 518B.01 subdv. 14(d)(2)(e); law of South Carolina, Sec. 16-25-70 (A)) and should provide flexibility to ensure women’s autonomy and decision-making in their case. See, for example, the law on Domestic Violence in Honduras (2006), which requires judges to conduct an investigation in cases where a complainant/ survivor wishes to drop a case to ensure that it is truly a woman’s choice and that she is not being pressured by the perpetrator to drop it (UN Handbook, 3.8.3).

    • provision for police and other law enforcement agencies, with judicial authorization where required by national law, adequate powers to enter premises and conduct arrests in cases of violence against women, and to take immediate measures to ensure the safety of victims (UNESC, 2010- III. 15(a)


Albania’s Law on Measures against Violence in Family Relations of 2008 contains several provisions specifically related to police, including:

  • Establishing “special units at the police departments to prevent and combat domestic violence” (Art. 7);

  • Requiring the Ministry of Interior to “train members of the police force to handle domestic violence cases” (Art. 7);

  • Requiring that police “record their findings in a written report and start investigations upon their own initiative (sua sponte)…The police gives the incident number to the victim” (Art. 8);

  • Requiring that police “take all necessary steps to ensure immediate and continuous implementation/ execution of protection measures” (Art. 23).

  • a 2010 update to the law, which allows the petition for protection orders on behalf of the minor to be presented by the police (Art. 13)

  • Specific duties of police in responding to violence against women include:

    • respond promptly to all requests for assistance and protection, even when the person who reports such violence is not the complainant/survivor.

    • assign the same priority to calls concerning cases of violence against women as to calls concerning other acts of violence.

    • provide options to complainants/survivors to communicate with female police officers or prosecutors (UN Handbook 3.2.4).

    • respect the rights of the victim, ensure the victim’s safety and that of her dependents, preserve confidentiality and prevent re-victimization.

    • upon receiving a complaint, conduct a coordinated risk assessment of the crime scene and respond accordingly in a language understood by the survivor, including by:

      • interviewing the parties and witnesses, including children, in separate rooms to ensure there is an opportunity to speak freely;

      • recording the complaint in detail;

      • advising the complainant/survivor of her rights and the services available to her as defined in national legislation;

      • filling out and filing an official report on the complaint;

      • providing or arranging transport for the complainant/survivor to the nearest hospital or medical facility for treatment, if it is required or requested;

      • providing or arranging transport for the complainant/survivor and the complainant/survivor’s children or dependents, if it is required or requested; and

      • providing protection to the reporter of the violence (UN Handbook, 2010).

      • registering the case, and where required, communicating the occurrence to the relevant judicial authority (e.g. prosecutor’s office or magistrate).


Example: The Maria da Penha Law no 11.340 (2006) of Brazil brings the national law on domestic and family violence into compliance with the Inter-American Convention of Belém do Pará and contains the following provisions to define the role and responsibilities of the Police Authority with respect to addressing violence against women:

  •   Includes a specific chapter on assistance to be provided by the police authority in cases of domestic violence against women.

  • Allows the police authority to arrest the aggressor in the act in case of any of the forms of domestic violence against the woman.

  • Ensures the registration of the police report and establishment of a police inquiry (with the testimonies of the victim, the aggressor, the witnesses and collection of other evidence).

  • Forwards the police inquiry to the Prosecutor’s Office

  • Permits the police to request that the judge determine several urgent measures, within 48 hours, to protect the woman in a situation of violence.

  • Permits the police to request that the judge determine preventive custody.