“If you are going to the police, you need to feel safe”
Leanne Butler, from Canada’s Prince Edward Island, has over three decades of experience in police work investigating child abuse and domestic violence. As part of an agreement Canada has with the EU, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sends highly qualified police advisers to EUPOL COPPS in order to support the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP). In Butler’s case, this involves working with the PCP’s Family Protection Unit in order to boost capacity in the fight against abuse which takes place within the home.
“I am very honoured to be working with Colonel Wafa Muammar, who leads the Family Protection Unit, and her team,” says the Canadian expert. “They really care about the victims, and are doing their best, even though they face a lot of challenges. As part of my work, I have travelled to different police districts across the West Bank. I met police officers who hadn’t been paid for months [as a result of financial pressures facing the Palestinian Authority]. Whatever the difficulties, they still carry out their work to prevent and investigate domestic violence. This makes you realise how committed they are”.
Butler is open about the issues facing her Palestinian colleagues working in the Family Protection Unit. “Gender-based and domestic violence are ongoing problems and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation families in abusive situations face even more challenging. The needs of the Family Protection Unit are ever changing – for example, cybercrime is an increasing problem and they need training in how to adapt to new technologies”.
“The PCP has also asked for support in how to interview people who have been victims of domestic violence,” Butler continues. “If you are going to the police, you need to feel safe, and the way that an interview is conducted is important in creating a safe environment, and also for collecting evidence that can be used by prosecutors”.
As well as training, the needs assessment that Butler carried out also identified that improvements to infrastructure would also make an important difference. “Most police stations lack a private room where evidence can be recorded in a way that is comfortable for people who have been through a traumatic experience. Partnering Organizations were found to support the building of infrastructure and we are looking at how we can refurbish spaces where interviews can take place in a way that is sensitive to the needs of victims”.
Another issue that Butler noted while visiting police stations across the West Bank was a lack of female restrooms. This obliges victims as well as female police officers to use other facilities, such as those in nearby cafes. “Having facilities for women is an important part of making spaces inclusive for female Palestinians”.
A positive development in the fight against domestic violence is was set up a few years ago of a ‘one-stop shop’ in Ramallah that victims can turn to. Butler hopes that such services might be available across the West Bank. “In Prince Edward Island, we want our support for women to be inclusive – we don’t just investigate, we try to make sure they have some sort of safety plan and support, including the possibility of court orders to restrict the ability of abusers to contact their victims or access the family home. Victims need different kinds of support and it’s good for them to get it in one place”.
The recent establishment of a telephone hotline that victims of domestic violence can call in order to speak to specialists is an important step forward for the PCP. The service is currently only available in the Ramallah district, but the PCP is expanding the reach of the hotline, including with EUPOL COPPS support.
Butler will soon leave EUPOL COPPS to return to policing duty in Canada, but her replacement will also be a Canadian woman. “I think the PCP’s Family Protection Unit is special and so I’m glad that another Canadian will have the opportunity to work with them. As well as working with the Family Protection Unit, one of the best parts of my time at EUPOL COPPS has been working with people from other countries. Different police forces from around Europe do things in slightly different ways, and you can always learn something from other approaches”.