Police officers are at the frontline of the criminal justice system. They are frequently called upon to intervene when an act of violence is in progress or shortly after it has occurred. Police work with victims, offenders, witnesses and various forms of evidence. The fact that they lack any necessary infrastructural or technical support to aid the work they do can have a great deal of impact on ensuing developments, including the prevention of future violent acts and the protection of victims.
The Police have long been under criticism for not doing enough to protect women from
violence and for an often apathetic attitude towards the problem. But have they been adequately equipped with the mandatory gear of technical and material tools is an important question to ask. Addis Zeybe interviewed Yeshi Moges, investigating Police at Lideta Women and Children's Office. When describing the material and technical hardships police officers face when dealing with gender-based violence victims she says "we have no suitable environment enough to make the victim comfortable when we accept his/her claim. The situation gets harder when it's children that come to the office. Nothing in this office is child friendly"
In the investigation process, when collecting evidence of a case, medical reports form a crucial part of the documentary evidence. Police officers often face problems in obtaining medical information soon. Yeshi adds "getting medical reports of victims on time is especially hard. Because it takes longer to get all the necessary information from the medical report of a victim, it slows down our work." The manner of collecting evidence is often outdated. DNA testing is unavailable in Ethiopia. In cases of sexual assault, specifically rape, the medical report can only determine the existence of Semen. This can't help indirectly linking the perpetrator to the crime and thus can only be tallied as circumstantial evidence.
Women and children who escaped sexual violence and came to report their case face the problem of not having a safe place to stay. It is unthinkable for those who escaped life-threatening and ongoing violence to return to where they came from, especially after reporting. Lack of infrastructural set up where such victims can take shelter is necessary. Yeshi further adds "we have no place to take victims who are unable to return to where they came from. Shelters working on this are often out of capacity to accept even one more additional person."
Lensee Kassahun, capacity building officer at the Association for Women's Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) states how the shelter is often out of capacity to take in victims who need shelter. She adds "If the government doesn't build safe house shelters where victims can stay in until their case is processed and they rehabilitate, things are going to continue being this complicated." Lensse further notes the other means of dealing with the matter is supporting shelters that work on providing a safe house and rehabilitation to women and girls who are a victim of gender-based violence.
Workload is another recurring difficulty, police officers face in conducting their duty. Additional to their regular task, they are often encumbered with the duty of assisting victims to get maintenance and shelter. "We often do many things other than our actual job. We assist victims to communicate with their family, children and loved ones, we act as mediators and many more things."
Victims of Gender-based violence must get the necessary psychological support when reporting their case. Doctor Dejene Habtu who is a psychologist describes the role of a professional in such circumstances as "There are professional's known as police psychologists who work in public safety and law enforcement. Their responsibilities include support in interviewing suspects, build an inquiry of their statement, and complete a psychological assessment based on their responses." Dejene further adds how critical these professionals can be in creating a safe environment for victims of abuse. "They can help in using the science of psychology to provide those who come seeking justice with a safe and secure environment where they can disclose to the police exactly what happened to them" he adds.
Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor. These effects can be difficult to deal with, but with the right help and support, they can be managed. Victims of sexual assault must get help from a mental health professional in reporting their case, yet that’s not the case here in Ethiopia. "We have no psychologists assisting us when we speak with the victims. We comfort them ourselves. It is when they calm down that we can proceed in accepting their claims" states Yeshi.
Despite these existing problems, there are some developments, Yeshi says how increasing the number of courts working on sexual violence has helped improve the system. Prosecutors working agender-based lice officers womanising a case is also a plus. She further adds "people that are working on gender-based violence are mostly women. This has helped create a safe environment for the victims." Police officers play a very decisive role in the justices system. The case file they organise and bring to court has the power of deciding on the fate of a victim getting justice served. Yeshi concludes by saying "providing us with the right support we need the will increase our productivity." Organizing the overall capacity of the police will inevitably increase the efficiency of the justice system and Yeshi shares that sentiment.