Recently I have come across a couple of really important and interesting things about addressing gender based violence in Vanuatu. As we know, it is a major issue in our country with physical, emotional, mental, social and economic impacts.
On the one hand, I saw the announcement of a trial of ‘Authorised Persons’ by the Ministry of Justice and Community Services. The roles and powers of an ‘Authorised Person’ are contained in the Family Protection Act which came into effect in 2008. They are able to issue temporary protection orders when incidents of family violence are reported to them. They provide an immediate connection to the criminal justice system.
This is the first such trial. A number of years ago, there were plans to conduct a similar trial on Tanna but this did not take place. Ten years is a long time to get from something being enacted in legislation to being ‘trialled’. Which leads me to my first question about joined up thinking and doing: why are things being included in legislation that cannot be implemented? If the use of ‘authorised persons’ was considered so important as to be included in a piece of legislation, why has it taken so long to get to the point of a trial?
Part of the answer (but not all of it) is almost certainly to do with budget. The people appointed to these roles recently by the Ministry of Justice are volunteers so will not receive a salary. But they do need to be trained. And they may require allowances to cover things like travel and phone credit. So there is a budgetary implication and at the moment, the Australian government and UN Women are providing financial support.
However, if this trial proves to be successful, and government decides to continue it and expand it to the rest of the country, will there be a budget to support it? Time will tell, but meanwhile the key to knowing whether this trial has been a success will be how it is monitored and evaluated.
There are lots of different ways to evaluate the impacts of a scheme like this one. We would expect to see a number of different things considered and studied in order to work out whether or not it is achieving good things. In this particular field, one of the things I expect to see is the impact that the use of ‘Authorised Persons’ has on reporting of crimes committed to the police.
Are more victims reporting what has happened to the police? Are those reports being acted upon?
Which brings me to another item I read about gender based violence in Vanuatu. Earlier this week on Facebook, someone posted that they had witnessed a man assaulting a woman and had called the police station in Luganville to report this crime. The person who posted on Facebook claims that the person he spoke to on the phone told him that there was no patrol in Luganville to deal with the incident, and suggested that the owner of the property where the offence was committed should bring the alleged attacker to the station.
This person then, it is claimed, went on to say words to the effect that it would be better if the man had assaulted the woman at home rather than in a public place.
This is disappointing if not very surprising. But it is noteworthy in the context of the introduction of ‘Authorised Persons’. Because one of the things they may need to do is support victims of family violence in reporting what has happened to the police.
Here is another ‘joined up thinking and doing’ issue. If we are putting in effort at the grass roots level to encourage more reporting of crimes of family violence, we need to see similar (and possibly more) effort being put into the parts of the system that are the entry points. There is no point supporting victims to report crimes if when they try to do so the police do not respond appropriately.
The failure of the police to take domestic violence seriously is not something that is particular to Vanuatu. Across the world, countries that have taken steps to address gender-based violence have had to deal with the challenges of changing police culture and operational practice.
This does not require ‘awareness raising’. It requires basic changes to operational procedures backed by consistent performance management. It requires a means of collecting reports such as this one of officers who fail to respond appropriately when a crime is reported to them. It requires appropriate training at all levels to bed down the right kinds of attitude and practice.
I look forward to learning more about the trial of Authorised Persons on Efate and Santo. And I hope to hear soon of what steps are the Vanuatu Police Force (with the support of the Vanuatu Australia Policing and Justice Program) are taking to make sure that when crimes of family violence are reported to them the response is the right one.
This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post by Tess Newton Cain