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‘Visible presence of female officers in the police force is essential for fighting violence against women’

  • Published at 02:23 pm October 25th, 2019
Participants at the end of the second day of the Strategy Development Workshop for Bangladesh Police Women Network. Photo: UN Women

Executive Director of the International Association of Women Police Jane Townsley says increasing the number of female officers in the police force will lead to more effective crime prevention

In Bangladesh 72.6%  of women who have ever been married experienced different forms of violence, including physical and sexual violence by their husbands at least once in their lifetime, according to the Violence Against Women (VAW) Survey 2015. 41.7% of the women experiencing physical or sexual violence by partner, suffered from injuries as a result of the violence.

The VAW survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics -- which interviewed  21,688 women aged 15 and above -- also found that over 72% of the surveyed women never reported their experience to others. Only a small percentage ever talk about it and only to people very close to them. A mere 1.1% of these women sought help from the police.

Jane Townsley says the lack of reporting is a significant obstacle toward reducing gender based violence (GBV) and the first step toward solving that problem should be the inclusion of more women in the police force.

“The visible presence of women in uniform can help build trust and confidence in the local communities; that’s backed up by research globally,” she said.

A former president and currently the executive director of the International Association of Women Police (IAWP), Jane Townsley is an experienced gender specialist in the field of policing and security with a 27 year-long career in the UK police force, from where she retired at the rank of Chief Inspector.

Townsley visited Bangladesh earlier this month to conduct a strategy development workshop for Bangladesh Police Women Network (BPWN) in Dhaka and workshops on GBV in Cox’s Bazar.

Funded by the government of Japan and initiated by UN Women, the workshops are meant to help Bangladesh Police Women Network become “agents for change for Bangladesh Police.”

“Where more women are visible in policing, there is a research that had shown the direct corelation to the increased reporting of violence against women, because it builds up that confidence,” said Townsley.

The recent spike in gender based violence in Bangladesh, Townsley says, should not be seen simply as a deterioration of the situation. It also means that more crimes have been reported.

“When the police becomes more trusted and public have more confidence, and certainly women are more confident about reporting crimes, crime figures will increase,” she said.

“We know globally, and Bangladesh is no different, that violence against women and girls are vastly underreported. So, even though there’s been a spike in the number of crimes in Bangladesh, that is probably still quite low compared to what’s actually happening.”

Jane Townsley, international expert and executive director of International Association of Women Police interacting with participants during the workshop in Dhaka.  Photo: UN Women Townsley sees the increase in reported crimes in violence against women as a positive thing for Bangladesh in the short term. She says it shows women are more confident in approaching the police. It also shows that Bangladesh Police’s efforts in this area of policing are starting to come to fruition.

“Until the police gets the victim coming forward and reporting the crime, it is very difficult for the police to tackle it as an overall issue and start to prevent and reduce the actual crimes happening,” she said.

With an increase in reported crimes, police can begin to build up the appropriate prevention strategy using the data. Eventually, in the long term, this helps the police to be proactive and actually bring the crime rate down.

“I think it’s very dangerous when people see a large numbers of crimes being reported and think that the problem is getting worse. The problem isn’t necessarily getting worse. What we are seeing is that people are being more confident about reporting,” said Townsley about adopting a more comprehensive perspective on the phenomenon of more crimes being reported. 

The expert was worried seeing a lack of awareness about this perspective in news reporting in the Bangladeshi media. The reports should be cognizant, she thinks, of the positive aspect of increase in the number of crimes being reported.

Townsley has been training Bangladeshi police officers -- both male and female first responders -- on how to tackle victims of gender based violence, which she says is the crucial first step towards building the public’s trust in the police force.

“They are the first people who are likely to come into contact with the victim. That’s the critical piece, because that will have the biggest impact on that victim’s trust and confidence in the police.”

Townsley said first responders don’t necessarily have to be specialists in gender based violence or domestic violence, but the general patrol officers, male or female, need to understand how to deal with the victim and how to make the victim feel safe. Specialists and investigators get involved in the next stage.

The lack of resources for the police, particularly in the rural areas is a big problem. Townsley says that providing gender sensitive service is difficult when the police are being held back by logistical issues.

“It is something that they are aware of and trying to address,” she said.

But most importantly, she reiterated, Bangladesh needs more female police officers.

“The problem that Bangladesh faces is a lack of female officers. The percentage of female officers is about seven percent here. That is very very low. In the UK the percentage is 30% and we think that’s too low,” said Townsley.

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