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Inefficiency at police stations hurts rape, violence victims

Tuesday August 13 2019

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Central Police Station in Nairobi. Having a gender desk at such facilities would encourage victims of violence to come forward. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

CAROLINE NJUNG'E
By CAROLINE NJUNG'E
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The police are responsible for enforcing the law, ensuring there is public order and that citizens are safe.

When you are robbed, carjacked, or even when your neighbour insults you, the first port of call should be the police station nearest to the scene of crime.

It is also here that those raped or who suffer domestic violence report the crimes.

Those who have been victims of these crimes will tell you that rape and domestic violence are traumatising and distressing.

There is shame and stigma attached to them too, so the way a victim of these treated is very important. They need empathy and privacy.

Four years ago, The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, 2015 was enacted into law. It provides for the protection of victims of domestic violence.

REFORMS

The Inspector-General of Police is responsible for ensuring that all police officers are trained to sufficiently deal with “family-related matters or domestic violence”, besides making the reporting process accommodating for the victim.

The aim of this is to encourage complainants to report to the police without fear. This office is also supposed to ensure that complaints are processed quickly and efficiently.

Everyone agrees that it is a laudable bill, but are the stipulations contained therein being followed to the letter though?

Is it now easier, four years after the passage of this commendable bill, for Kenyans to confidently report domestic violence in our police stations and have their complaints addressed with empathy and efficiency?

Esther Kuria* will tell you “no".

Two weeks ago — it was a Wednesday — Esther, a 47-year-old mother of three, was battered by her husband of 17 years.

It was not the first time he had physically assaulted her, but this time round she decided to report the incident to the police.

MISTREATMENT

The following day, she took time off work in the afternoon and hired a taxi to South C, where she lives.

The police station where she went to report the matter is a walking distance from her house.

That day, there were three police officers at the front desk, two men and a woman. Esther was served by the policewoman. Behind her in line were three other people waiting to be served.

Here is how the conversation went:

“How many I help you?” the policewoman politely asked.

“My husband beat me…,” Esther said hesitantly in a low voice, aware of the strangers standing behind her, within earshot, listening to a story she would rather have told in private.

“Speak up …” the policewoman, who seemed not to have heard her prompted her, pen poised over the occurrence book open before her.

“I want to report my husband … he beat me,” she said a little louder, looking down in embarrassment.

“When did he beat you?” the officer asked.

“Yesterday evening,” Esther answered.

“Where did he beat you?” she asked again, writing in the book.

“Here and here,” Esther replied, touching the left side of her head and her left breast.

As she was saying this, the other two police officers glanced at her curiously and then quickly looked away.

“Where do you live?” the questioning continued.

“What is your phone number?”

“And your husband’s?”

MEDICAL REPORT

The police officer, having finished her questioning, wrote something and then tore out a section of a piece of paper and handed it to Esther.

The small piece of plain white paper read, “OB NO” and beneath it, the OB number and the time the report was made.

Worth noting is that there was no stamp to signify that this was a valid document, or even the police station that issued it. It was just a piece of paper with numbers.

Esther was then advised to get a medical report from a hospital, after which she would be given a P3 Form, the document to be produced in court should she decide to have her husband prosecuted.

Esther chose the Nairobi Women’s Hospital Gender Violence Recovery Centre, where it took her over three hours to get the medical report.

By then, it was 6pm, so she decided to take the report to the police station the following day.

The next day, she returned to the police station at 10am, only to be told to return at 3pm because the police officer with the P3 Forms was not in.

Esther, who had taken the morning off from work, knew she could not afford to test her employer’s generosity, and decided to return the following day.

BACKLOG

She finally got the P3 Form at 10am on Saturday, and was asked to take to the Nairobi Area Traffic Police Station, where the police surgeon is based.

It is here that one is supposed to be examined by the police surgeon, who also fills the P3 Form.

When Esther got there, she found around 30 people ahead of her. There is no waiting area, so she joined the people who had arrived earlier in a “shed” outside the police station.

After a while, a policeman came round collecting the forms, but warned them that he first had to clear the backlog from the previous day.

Several hours later, she finally got to see the surgeon, who asked a few questions and then summarised the findings of the medical report she had been given at Nairobi Women’s Hospital.

If Esther’s experience is anything to go by, the well-meaning provisions of the bill are far from being implemented — the process between reporting the crime and moving towards getting justice remains lengthy, frustrating and discouraging.

And no, forget about privacy, at least not at this police station, a factor that might discourage victims from reporting domestic violence.

GENDER DESKS

Police Spokesman Charles Owino does not think the police have had a challenge implementing the provisions of the bill, pointing out that every police office gets the necessary training to handle cases of sexual and domestic violence.

“We take this issue very seriously. Most police stations have gender desks that specifically handle these cases, and the officers who man these desks are sufficiently trained to handle such cases,” says Mr Owino, who points out that depending on the station one visits, there will be a difference in how the complainant is received.

For instance, he says, there are marked differences in terms of resources and a set up between a police station, a police post and a patrol base.

Had Esther gone to a police station in Meru or Kilifi County, her experience might have been different, thanks to a partnership between the police, the counties and a civil society organisation that has been actively training police officers on how to handle sexual and domestic violence cases.

To begin with, the police stations in these counties have active gender desks manned by at least two police officers, a man and a woman.

These men and women have, besides the mandatory training given by the National Police Service, additional instruction by the Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW) under a project called Haki Yetu, Jukumu Letu, which they launched in 2017.

SAFE HAVEN

Isabella Mwangi, the programme officer in Kilifi County, explained that they chose Kilifi and Meru counties due to the heavy burden of gender-based violence in the two counties bear.

“In Kilifi County, for instance, 17,000 teenage pregnancies were reported last year alone, either halting or putting a stop to the education of these girls,” says Ms Mwangi, pointing out that in Meru County, there have been increased reports of sexual and gender-based violence towards men, women, boys and girls over the years.

In the two years, since the partnership began, there has been improvement in the way survivors of gender-based violence are treated by the police.

In addition, early this year Meru County passed a policy on sexual and gender-based violence.

“The policy, among other issues, addresses providing shelter for those who have been abused, and a safe house for those whose lives might be in danger. It also spells out the social support that will be offered to aid integration of survivors into the society,” explains Ms Mwangi.

By last year, 38 police officers from Meru County had been trained on GBV-related laws and efficient handling of such cases.

“When we began the project in these two counties, we were met with lots of community apathy — violence against women and children had been going on for so long, it had become the norm.

"But this is gradually changing, thanks to regular community dialogues tackling topics people would shy away from, such as partner violence,” the lawyer adds.

AWARENESS

Women also feel confident enough to rally themselves and protest against injustices in their community and even write petitions to the county administration demanding their rights.

Awareness of GBV has traditionally been done by civil society groups, but following the passing of the policy in Meru County, the administration committed to spearhead the awareness campaign and use its resources - money and staff - to do the advocacy, since the policy is provided for in the county’s budget.

Kilifi County, too, has made progress, and is in the process of passing a similar policy, which is currently with the Cabinet.

Experts say what would work are one-stop centres in all counties where survivors can be served in one day.

An ideal one-stop centre should have a treatment facility, a police station or at least a police officer to handle the complaint and issue the P3 Form.

“Another important component would be legal aid, not necessarily an in-house lawyer, but ready referral for those that might further advise on how to proceed: Ideally, the entire process should be complete in a day,” Beatrice Njeri, a lawyer with CREAW, says.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

But physical structures will serve no purpose if these facilities do not promote one’s dignity or provide privacy, the very factors that were missing at the police station where Esther went to seek help.

Rwanda is one of several African countries that have introduced one-stop centres that address cases of domestic violence and other forms of abuse, including child abuse.

These centres have been established within district hospitals, rather than police stations, a factor that has, according to reports, encouraged more survivors of to report the crimes, in turn leading to increased prosecutions.

Here, complainants are served by various experts under one roof, including doctors who offer treatment and write the necessary medical report, as well as the police, who investigate the crime. These centres also have toll-free lines.

Other countries with similar facilities include Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi.