Irvin Waller calls for governments to meet international standards of victim assistance and invest in preventing victimization.

Let´s prevent violence against women and girls – we have more knowledge than we think

It is time for developed and developing countries alike to take the issues of the prevention of gender based violence seriously by investing in what will stop the violence and assist the victims to survive better.

In May 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted an important milestone for the role of the World Health Organization in the prevention of violence against women and girls. This called for a much greater role for the health sector in order to reduce the prevalence of, and improve the response to, gender based violence.

In December 2014, the World Health Organization in partnership with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Development Programme released a status report on the implementation of effective violence prevention across the globe. This identified seven core areas where social investment would reduce violence and issues such as measurement and leadership essential to their implementation.

In December 2013, Smarter Crime Control was published in English, which shows the evidence and costs of what reduces street violence, violence against women and children, and traffic injuries. In November 2014, the Spanish version was published with an important forward by the head the Mexican federal police with a commitment to respect the conclusions in reforming policing and community safety.

Here are six important ukases:

1. Governments must stop their over-reliance on punishment and criminal justice

Holding perpetrators accountable through the standard law enforcement and criminal justice system has not been shown to reduce victimization significantly. These measures do not avoid the victimization of many women and children and they are very expensive, after the fact, and too late. You cannot arrest your way out of these problems and the USA has proved that you cannot incarcerate your way out of these problems.

Even innovative strategies such as domestic violence courts have limitations difficult to overcome as many of the offenders arrested, convicted and sentenced have multiple problems, including poverty, mental illness, substance abuse and unemployment. These make it difficult to deal with any one problem, including intimate partner violence.

However, programs tackling risk factors such as alcohol and guns that increase the risk of violence have been shown to be effective.

2. Awareness programs are not proven to prevent

There is little evidence that publicity programs designed to raise awareness and change attitudes have any impact on reducing violence. Programs such as ¨Manifest Change¨ and Don´t be that Guy¨ are popular among agencies and do not do any harm. However, cheap and popular does not necessarily equal effective.

3. Governments can do much to reduce violence through empowerment of women

Policies that educate women more in schools and universities as well as those that create better jobs for women provide them with the opportunity to choose to leave violent intimate partner relationships. Changes in divorce legislation and programs that provide women with confidence that they will be able to survive without their violent partner and support their children are important.

4. Governments can do much for victims to help them survive

After victimization of adult females, the research shows that it is possible to help victims survive through hospital and medical care, transition shelters or programs that remove the man from the family home, as well as sexual assault crisis centres and all female police stations (see also Waller, Irvin, Rights for Victims of Crime, Chapter 3 and 7 )

Logically services that are there for the victim and help the victim choose whether to involve police and law enforcement seem important. However, whatever the service, it seems generally very difficult to help victims thrive.

For child victims, the research is less clear. The Child Advocacy Clinic movement provides a way to mitigate the secondary victimization that comes from multiple agencies interviewing child victims, but exactly the best way to intervene or provide support to children is not clear from the research or even the logic.

5. The main conclusion from the earlier points is that Prevention is Better than Cure

Fortunately, there is some good news about the ability for governments to prevent violence against women and girls. My conclusions (see Smarter Crime Control, chapters 1 and 7) are as follows (for another evidence based perspective see work of Holly Johnson including her text for Canada:

(i) There is proven evidence on preventing disadvantaged boys growing up to be violent (against anybody women, children or men) – what prevents street violence also prevents violence against women and children;

(ii) There are a few proven preventive strategies focused only on Violence against women such as 4th R, Bystander intervention and IMAGE;

(iii) Evidence on prevention is that they are proven not only to be effective and but also cost effective;

(iv) There are also strategies that follow a logic model that are therefore promising, including programs that foster social cohesion and support among women, school programs that educate children on what is acceptable, and the important campaigns on university and college campuses such as the White House Task Force.

6. Governments must develop an evidence-based plan to target 50% reduction in gender based violence within ten years

Unfortunately none of the proven or promising strategies are widely implemented. The main impediment to implementation is the justice discourse that emphasizes punishment as a means of accountability, but punishment does not equal prevention. The shift from the traditional costly and not preventive silos of police, lawyers and prisons to more comprehensive and effective public health and municipal actions is a critical challenge.

We have evidence on what works and how to implement it but we are not using it despite the huge loss to victims equivalent to 5% or more of GDP and the relatively small investment – maybe 2/10th of one percent of GDP to reduce violence by 50% within 10 years.

The critical implementation steps include:

a. identification of the government centres responsible for implementation;

b. training of the officials and civil society persons responsible for implementation;

c. setting of measurable targets and indicators in line with social development goals (eg adapting National intimate partner and sexual Violence survey);

d. development of the mechanisms and measures to monitor and evaluate implementation progress;

e. formulation of a compelling cost-effective proposals to obtain adequate investment;

f. establishment of a joint government and civil society task force to monitor implementation;

g. Invest 1/10 of one per cent of GDP to implement the action plan.

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