Racial bias must be addressed to create real change in police responses to gender-based violence

While gender-responsive policing is gaining momentum around the world, intersecting forms of bias and discrimination within the justice sector stops many women and girls from receiving the help they need.

Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2021

On 5 August, at an event convened by UN Women and global advocacy organization NO MORE, regional decision-makers and influencers from within law enforcement and policing, and civil society organizations, including a senior White House representative and a representative from the National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement (NOBWLE), met to discuss solutions to ending harmful bias, and increasing diverse representation, when responding to violence against women and girls.

Data shows that less than 1 in 10 women who seek help after experiencing violence turn to the police, with few cases resulting in convictions, and the figures decrease even further when visible minorities are involved as victims. Studies have shown that sexual assaults against Black women in the US are under-reported, under-investigated, and under-prosecuted when compared with cases where White women are attacked. Plus, across the Americas, indigenous women and girls are disproportionately represented in the number of female victims who go missing and are killed. Some studies have described indigenous women as “invisible victims of femicide”.

“Gender-responsive policing is pivotal to enabling women and girls to have more confidence in law enforcement and to feel they are represented,” said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “We need a truly ‘gender-responsive’, survivor-centred police and justice system where law enforcement officers – male and female – are fully trained, supported by management and enjoy the trust of their communities, and particularly that of women and girls in all their diversity.”

In the US, just over 12 per cent of law enforcement are Black women and men, and less than 15 per cent of all police officers are female. In 2016 it was reported that only 3 per cent of full-time police officers were Black women. In Canada, female officers in 2019 accounted for 22 per cent of all police officers but only 4 per cent of all police officers self-identified as indigenous.

This month’s event built on the success of the recent Global Policing Roundtable convened by UN Women, the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) and UNODC, in the lead up to the Generation Equality Forum in Paris. At both events, government representatives committed to using the newly launched Handbook on Gender-Responsive Police Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence as a tool to implement gender-responsive policing practices throughout their justice systems, and in Paris, the Government of France announced their intention to launch a high-level inter-ministerial network so that countries could share best practices and lessons learned.

“Too often, when women bravely come forward to report domestic or sexual violence, they do not get an appropriate response from their local police force, especially in marginalized communities and communities of color,” explained NO MORE’s co-founder and Board Chair, Jane Randel.

“We need to come together to fuel cultural change in policing where it’s needed; to insist that policing focuses on the actions of the perpetrator and not solely on the credibility of the victim; and to push for the passage of laws that enable charges to be filed and to stick,” emphasized Randal. “The NO MORE Foundation is grateful to UN Women for convening this event and to all the powerful speakers for sharing their perspectives and experiences, which are invaluable as we all advance this work."

It was announced at the event that a new special collection of resources focused on improving law enforcement responses to domestic violence and sexual assault has been compiled, supported by UN Women, as part of the COURAGE in Policing Project, a brainchild of the National Research Centre on Domestic Violence, the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law and the Casa de Esperanza National Latin Network.

“We plan to release a special collection on VAWNet on ‘Gender Bias in Policing’ that will provide various perspectives and resources for advocates, law enforcement leaders and others who are considering ways to improve law enforcement responses to gender-based violence, particularly in underserved or marginalized communities,” said Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, Professor and Director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

“We want to continue to advance efforts to improve the law enforcement response in a manner that is more trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and accountable.”

You can find the Handbook here and follow the link for more information on UN Women’s work on Essential Services