Community Policing

Solving problems together

 Domestic violence is one of the crucial societal problems worldwide. The negative psychological, emotional and even economical effects are devastating. Nevertheless, domestic violence remains a relatively low priority for policing especially in developing countries. The reasons for that are manifold and cannot be explained by a single factor. Current data suggests that domestic violence is a widespread phenomenon in Kosovo although public awareness is relatively low. Nevertheless, different initiatives address the issue including the establishment of Domestic Violence Investigation Units by the Kosovo Police. A variety of ICT developments deals with the issue, such as telephone hotlines as well panic button and reporting apps. 

Introduction

Domestic violence cuts across lines of income, class, and culture.[1] The OSCE declares violence against women and girls a “global epidemic, that devastates the lives of millions of women and girls and hampers progress towards comprehensive security for all”.[2] Nevertheless, in public discourse, there seems to be a pervasive attitude that particularly in post-conflict countries one should deal with more serious matters, such as the economic and social crisis, the consequences of the war and the transition. Respectively the police are under high pressure to tackle more serious crime phenomenon, such as organized crimes and terrorism. Domestic violence is only a secondary issue and consequently, resources remain scarce.[3] But with regards to the scale of the problem of domestic violence, this view ignores the fact that human security has its starting point in the very intimate sphere of family homes.    

Definition: Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior which involves abuse or other forms of violence by one person against another in a domestic or family-setting. It can include various forms, such as physical verbal emotional and sexual abuse. It is part of a systematic pattern of power and control exercised by the perpetrator over the victim. Very often it takes place in partnerships where the women are victimized but generally, all forms of family relationships are relevant (for example children as victims). Domestic violence and Sexual harassment are often interrelated.

It is important to note that Domestic violence and violence against women are not the same although they are very often used synonymously. Domestic violence is broader and, in fact, a number of men experience domestic violence during their lifetime mostly by violent acts from parents or emotional abuse by their spouses and partners. Without diminishing the serious effects of violence against children and men this chapter will put a focus on domestic violence as violence against women and girls.

Extent and Impact of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence must be considered a reflection of discrimination and pervasive power imbalances between men and women. The effects on the victims can be very serious, long lasting and a hard to quantify. Besides physical and health problems there is a psychological, emotional and even economical dimension to it. The UN names a variety of effects such as a higher likelihood of women who suffered from intimate partner violence to give birth to a low-birth-weight baby, have an abortion and experience depression. Violence can lead to indirect economic cost such a reduced ability of a woman to work, care for her family and contribute to society. Direct economic costs include those associated with the police, hospital and other health services, legal costs, and costs associated with housing, social and support services. Conservative estimates of lost productivity resulting from domestic violence range between 1 and 2% of the gross domestic product.[4]

It gets even more complicated when one takes the attitudes of domestic violence into consideration. According to the same study, 21% of women and 22% of men agree that “sometimes it is okay for a husband to hit his wife”. Nearly 25% of the respondents believe that sexual intercourse can never be violence if it happens between two adults who are married”. Nearly 30% believe that violence is a normal part of any relationship and in society, in general, accepts the violence happens sometimes”.[5] These might be reasons for the fact, that only 11% of women in OSCE countries who experience sexual assault report it.[6]  However, one might interpret these findings they show that there are no easy ways of tackling the issue. How to solve a problem that is probably not even considered a problem by a substantial part of the communities? More education, more sensitizing for the issue might be a way to go. 

A crucial problem when it comes to estimating the scale of domestic violence, as well as sexual harassment, is the collection of viable data. In a research study in Kosovo estimated that about 30% of the respondents may have been dishonest in one or more of their responses to the survey.[7] How the researchers came to this estimation is not explained as well as lying about sexual harassment means to downplay or to dramatize it. During the project with community-based paralegals for minorities in Kosovo presented above, the paralegals were confronted with the fact that when asked only a few cases of domestic violence were reported by the women.[8] But everyone seemed to know someone else from their community that experienced domestic violence. This might indicate that women who experienced domestic violence are not comfortable to talk about it but prefer to wrap up their experiences in a story from hearsay. One might conclude that every of this woman actually experienced violence themselves. But it could also indicate that the women tell the truth and there have been one or a few cases of domestic violence in the community that all women had heard of. After all in small communities social bonds tend to be tight and intimate information circle. 

Domestic Violence and Vulnerable Groups

Women and girls from vulnerable groups, such as migrants, refugees or minorities, face a much higher risk of being victimized by gender-based violence including early and forced marriages, transactional sex, and sexual harassment. A survey from Bosnia estimates that 43% of Roma women had experienced physical violence. In addition, the risk of being exploited for labor, forced to prostitution and victims of human trafficking are much higher as well. For example, Roma women are confronted with multiple discrimination because of their minority status as women, their ethnic background, and their low social status.[9] In addition, limited access to education leaving particularly women with alarmingly low educational standards is manifested in a high unemployment rate and high economic dependency on partners and families.  

The public interest and political will in tackling these issues minority women face are very low. Where resources are scarce majority issues remain on top of the political agenda. This is accompanied by the widespread attitude that minority problems are of much less or no concern at all of the majority society. Perceptions of domestic violence often remain in manifested stereotypes and misunderstandings of the problem leading to tolerated violence and criminal impunity.

Men, Boys and Gender Equality

Successfully tackling domestic violence and enhancing gender equality cannot be achieved without including men and boys. Most perpetrators are male whereas men are also negatively affected by gender stereotypes and the results of gender-based violence.[10] But stigmatizing men as perpetrators and excluding them from all efforts to promote gender equality is inefficient. In fact, the OSCE launched a Men Engage Network in 2012 as a result of growing recognition that gender equality can only be achieved by engaging men, acknowledging the positive influence man can have on the issue and promoting positive role models for men and boys.

Taking account of the sometimes difficult situations men and boy find themselves confronted with in post-conflict settings is crucial for engaging them in equality efforts. In times of conflict, the roles of men and women often undergo radical change. Before conflicts break out men derive much of their sense of identity and self-consciousness from the fact that they consider themselves as economic providers for their families. In most post-conflict situations, the economy is in shambles and a substantial number of men will remain unemployed. This is particularly the case for former fighters of the conflict parties a crucial problem for the societies of the Western Balkans. This may result in an experienced loss of identity and emotional stress, substance abuse, and a continuous cycle of violent behavior, including sexual and gender-based violence.[11] It is, therefore, crucial to engage young women and men together in resolving conflict, guide them to become agents of positive change and create platforms to promote healthy versions of masculinities and manhood. 

State Response to Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is widely perceived as being a family matter and reporting to the police or other institutions, for example, by neighbors is considered inadequate. The state is therefore in a difficult position. Providing an effective legal framework is one thing. In Kosovo, for example, the Law on Protection against domestic violence (2008) and the Programme and Action plan against Domestic Violence 2011-2014 were issued. Another thing is how these laws are implemented and if and how they are enforced by law enforcement. Kosovo Women’s Network argues that remaining challenges are among others: inadequate services available for persons who have suffered violence and perpetrators of violence, including rehabilitation and reintegration programs; insufficient sustainability of shelters; poor enforcement of measures, such as child alimony; insufficient human and financial resources in some institutions; a lack of professional psychologists; inadequate coordination among institutions in domestic violence case management; and traditional gender norms that contribute to “blaming the victim”.[12] But one of the crucial challenges remains underreporting by citizens.

The latter aspect is not surprising. According to UN statistics, only a fraction of women experiencing violence seeks help. If they do, they are more likely turning to family and friends or health services. The portion of female victims seeking help from the police is less than 10 %. The UN identifies the low rate of female Police officers as one reason for the reluctance of women speaking with the police. Another reason is very often the economic dependency of women on their husbands leaving them with no other source of income.

Again the situation in Kosovo seems to be a bit differently. Over 70% of the respondents in the cited study said, that they would contact police in case of domestic violence. Seemingly before turning to other institutions, such as NGOs or Victims Advocates. The reason for this might be that the Kosovo Police is considered to be one of the most trusted state institutions in the country. However, it should be mentioned that according to the same study, approximately 25% of the respondents think, that “there is no point in calling the police when violence happens because police will not do anything.”[13]

Implications for COP

Domestic Violence has a number of implications for community police work. For example, confidentiality is one of the main issues. Particularly in small communities where everyone knows everyone, this can be a major problem respectively for community police officers that tend to know the people in their communities. Avoid being put on public display is crucial for protection and wellbeing of victims. Strict confidentiality policies have to be put in place concerning identities of victims and suspects. Another issue is certain dynamics related to the behavior of traumatized victims with regards to the consistency in their stories. The potential for frustration among police officers is high when alleged victims withdraw or change incriminating statements during investigations or in court proceedings.

A key to successful police work in this field is Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that clearly outline how to react in cases of Domestic violence. Special training for Police Officers and the establishment of special Domestic Violence Investigation Units consisting of a male and female Police Officer in each municipality have become more or less standard Kosovo wide. Nevertheless, the problem of considering domestic violence as acceptable, as well as victim blaming, remains a widely unsolved issue among Police Officer. Community Police Officers should use their strong ties to the community and inform about other institutions offering protection from Domestic violence. Safe houses or shelters play an important role in the matter of protecting and reintegrating victims of violence. There are currently six safe houses in Kosovo located mainly in larger cities, such as Pristina, Prizren, and Mitrovica-South. Referrals can be made by the police who is also obliged to accompany victims to the safe houses.[14] 

ICT and Domestic Violence

A number of smartphone and tablet applications have been created over the past years that address specifically the issue of domestic violence as well as related issues, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, and stalking. The approaches to address these issues are manifold. Some of these apps provide general information for awareness raising purposes whereas others include screening tools to support in identifying whether abuse is occurring and provide resources for help. A number of apps function like personal safety tools that can be used to inform friends or even the police if assistance is needed. There is even an app that provides victims with 24-hour information on the custody status of an offender. According to techsafety.org, a very useful webpage that provides extensive information and reviews on these apps, different functional groups can be identified.

A substantial number of apps are directed towards survivors of abuse and allow for communication with another person or several persons. This is either done through the app itself or through the phone. Some apps allow messaging a trusted individual with information about the safety of the user or with evidence of the abuse. Others allow to quickly send a message to one or several trusted individuals to let them know assistance is needed in an emergency.

Some apps provide tools for collecting and documenting evidence of abuse that can then be shared from the app with a trusted individual or authorities. An app like this might help to build a case for pressing charges.

Some apps serve a mainly educational purpose by informing about how to detect violence and abuse and which individual measures can be taken.

In cases of domestic violence, these apps themselves can pose a risk to the victim as the abusive might gain access to the mobile device. Some of these apps address this issue by disguising themselves, for example, as a news app.  Several of these apps are developed for specific countries, regions or populations. Particularly the reporting function to local police stations has to be widely not available in SE Europe. But also sometimes only specific populations are addressed such as college students and might be less relevant to other populations. A general issue that applies to all apps, that people tend to download them when they have identified domestic violence as a problem they experience themselves. But research has shown that very often domestic violence is justified as common behavior by the perpetrators as well as by the victims themselves (research from Kosovo.) The best educational App cannot help as long as self-awareness of the victims is lacking the app is not downloaded.

 

[1] UN Statistic division 2015: The world’s Woman, 139.

[2] OSCE 2016: Combating violence against women in the OSCE Region, 4.

[3] ICVA 2011: Roma women for life without violence – Response of institutions to domestic violence, 5.

[4] The world’s Woman 2015: Trends and Statistics 2015, 141.

[5] Kosovo Women’s Network 2015: No more excuses, 5-6.

[6] OSCE 2016: Combating violence against women in the OSCE Region, 8

[7] Kosovo Women’s Network 2016: Sexual Harassment in Kosovo, 50.

[8] Our Interview partner reported: “There weren’t many cases because I don’t think the women felt comfortable to share their problems.” Project assistant European Center for Minority Issues.

[9] ICVA 2011: Roma women for life without violence – Response of institutions to domestic violence, 11.

[10] OSCE 2016: Combating violence against women in the OSCE Region, 24.

[11] United States Institute of Peace 2013: The Other Side of Gender – Men as critical Agents of change, 1.

[12] Kosovo Women’s Network 2015: No more excuses, 5.

[13] Kosovo Women’s Network 2015: No more excuses, 65.

[14] Kosovo Women’s Network 2015: No more excuses, 76.

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ICT4COP: A Research Project
funded by the EU Commission's
Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation Programme