It is sad to hear of the serial blunders coming from the Tesano office of the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service. But the antidote to that is not to deform the unit by changing its operational structure.
Information is making the rounds that a new directive has been issued by the police administration that brings DOVVSU under the jurisdiction of divisional heads. is thisthe end of DOVVSU?
DOVVSU was set up to provide a professional response to sexual and gender-based violence. It was to be staffed by personnel with further training in gender, human rights, counselling, child development and overall victim support.
We all know the DOVVSU we have, started off as the Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU) for a reason. The founders of WAJU recognised a limitation in the police response to sexual and gender-based violence and wanted to close that gap and keep up with international good practice.
One recalls the earlier practice of sending officers to Namibia to understudy a similar concept.
The name of WAJU in those days created fear and panic in perpetrators; this is not to suggest that everything was alright then. Nevertheless, there was passion, commitment, dedication and openness on the part of officers at the unit and the highest echelon of the police administration to work with civil society collaborators.
Change of name
The change of name from WAJU to DOVVSU, we were made to understand, was in keeping with the newly promulgated Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732). The change also captured a transition the police was making from emphasis on alleged perpetrators or suspects to victims/survivors. Although civil society was initially skeptical and opposed the name change, the police administration explained the rationale to our satisfaction.
Perennially, DOVVSU has had challenges with resources. Space for officers to provide privacy was a problem then and now; mass transfers of officers from the unit after huge investment in their training by civil society; no incentives for officers who often rely on their personal resources to feed very hungry victims.
Since its inception, DOVVSU has been plagued with ambiguous institutional set up; with erratic and pathological vacillations among director CID, director Administration, director welfare, etc., as heads of the Unit, DOVVSU has suffered from the lack of focus and interest from the police administration. In spite of all the challenges, DOVVSU has remained a significant plank in the ladder of response to sexual and gender-based violence in the country.
The collaboration with development partners and civil society organisers in the exercise of their mandate has brought many within the police service to develop wrong perception about the unit.
There are many who think that with this partnership, the unit is flowing with milk and honey culminating in an unhealthy desire for control particularly at the regional and divisional hierarchy of the police. The command structure as civil society actors have come to know is a national coordinator of DOVVSU responsible for all DOVVSU operations in the country.
The rationale is to insulate DOVVSU operations from regional and divisional influences, which may in turn come under considerable pressure from chiefs and other “big men” in their jurisdictions. We are all aware of the socio-cultural tendency to settle violence within families without recourse to due process at the expense of victims’ rights.
We in civil society have not been impressed with the attitude and output of all officers at DOVVSU; of course like any other unit within the service and among the generality of Ghanaian institutions, there are bad nuts who must be identified and punished if they are found in breach of internal service protocol or code of ethics; but to tamper with the operational command of DOVVSU because some officers have allegedly soiled their hands is a wrong move with serious consequences for DOVVSU’s operations.
The way out of DOVVSU’s challenges is not to bring it under divisional heads making the national coordinating office of DOVVSU redundant. Without a strengthened DOVVSU, the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act will suffer seriously.
Strengthening DOVVSU must be the focus of the current police administration; our expectation is that the police administration will show seriousness to the concerns of women and children in this country by elevating the status of DOVVSU to a director-general position.
I recall a recent interaction with the President, John Dramani Mahama, under the auspices of the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, discussed problems confronting DOVVSU with a passionate call to the President to intervene. He agreed with a firm assurance that he was going to facilitate the elevation of DOVVSU to a schedule officer position at the police headquarters.
Any contrary move, therefore, to this thinking will be a disservice to victims most of whom are women and children. It is our expectation that sooner than later, the one-stop shop dream of the founding fathers and mothers of DOVVSU will become a reality.
Gender based court
There is a reason why the judiciary, under Her Ladyship the Chief Justice Theodora Wood, has established two gender-based violence courts in Accra and Kumasi with more to come. The reason is to bring focus, professionalism and sensitivity to issues concerning women and children, the police cannot do less. The police administration must learn from her example.
We call on the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, to gently remind Mr President about his word to the women and children of this country about his desire to see DOVVSU strengthened and to whisper into the ears of the IGP that “if you’re unable to find a decent gift for your in-law, you do not steal from her/him”.