SENIOR Sergeant Martin Haga, the coordinator of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Forces’ national community policing arm, says an intensive course he attended in Fiji on violence against women has given him many tools to help with his outreach programs.
Senior Sergeant Haga and his colleague Sergeant Mary Ake were part of a cohort of 30 officers from 11 Pacific countries who underwent a training course facilitated by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) with funding from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), recently.
The Police Regional Training aims to equip officers with a thorough understanding of gender dynamics, the causes of violence against women and the relevant laws designed to combat gender-based violence.
Senior Sergeant Haga, who also oversees the domestic violence unit, says a session during the course about countering justifications for violence against women from culture and religion would be useful when his team are raising awareness about the issue.
“In the Pacific islands countries and cultural settings, when we start doing awareness on domestic violence we get people saying ‘it’s our culture’ and ‘it’s in the Bible’,” says Mr Haga.
Now, Mr Haga says he can immediately and simply respond to such comments by also quoting sections of the Bible and referring to cultural practices that did not condone violence against women.
“Domestic violence is a criminal situation” and the collection and preservation of evidence needed to be done professionally to secure convictions, says Mr Haga.
“I believe that’s why when responding to domestic violence people don’t take it seriously because the police officers themselves have been brought up with that mind-set,” he added.
Sergeant Mary Ake, who leads community policing work in Guadalcanal Province, says violence against women and children is a “big problem” and some isolated communities did not have access to information on the problem.
She says changing mind-sets would not be easy but the course has helped “empower us to link with the leaders in the community so they know what violence against women is about.”
Ms Ake says: “All police officers must go through this training; it should be in our police academy, especially for frontline police officers.”
The officers said the commencement of the Family Protection Act in April has provided them with tools to help in their work to eliminate violence against women.
Mr Haga says in 2014, his unit received 806 reports of violence perpetrated in a family setting.
In 2015, there were 965 cases, while from January to the end of September, there were 942 cases.
He attributes the increase in cases to an increased awareness of violence against women and the corresponding decreasing tolerance in communities to such violence.
Under the Family Protection Act, 714 cases had been dealt with between 1 April and 30 September and 117 ‘police safety notices’ had been issued.
The Act gives police the power to issue a citation to a perpetrator, even without an affected person requesting the notice, to prevent violence and in the absence of a full protection order issued by the court.
Mr Haga said:
“That shows some improvement in police trying to address and respond to the issue of violence against women.
“With the commencement of the Act and with awareness in the communities which police and NGOs are doing, it increases information to rural areas and people are starting to come out to police stations to report cases.”
Represented during the training were Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The AFP-FWCC Regional Police Training Program was first held in 2014, with this being the fourth.
In May 2016, a Regional Police Training was held in the Federated States of Micronesia, the first of its kind for officers in the Northern Pacific countries.
The graduation of the current cohort brings the number of graduates to 110 regional police officers.