Preventing family violence

Solomon Islands has amongst the world’s worst levels of violence against women and children in the world. According to the Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Study (Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2010), around two-thirds of women and young girls in Solomon Islands have been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

The scale of the problem is not the only issue in Solomon Islands. There are limited resources available to combat family violence, logistical issues inherent in policing remote communities, where many of these offences occur, and a need for greater support from the justice sector in holding offenders accountable. It is also vital that community attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate violence against women and girls be changed.

RAMSI is supporting the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) combat family violence in a number of ways. The overarching goals of RAMSI’s programs are to train RSIPF officers to understand the dynamics of family violence, attend and investigate reports, hold offenders accountable, keep victims and families safe, and work collaboratively with communities. The RSIPF themselves have a National Community Policing and Family Violence Team, and officers in each province who are designated Family Violence and/or Community Policing Officers.

Violence against women and children is a crime in Solomon Islands. It is not just an issue for women. It is not just a policing matter. It is a matter for all of Solomon Islanders, for governments, for communities, for churches, leaders and chiefs, for donors and civil society. This is why this issue is a priority for RAMSI.

RAMSI’s Participating Police Force’s (PPF) community policing team support the RSIPF to engage in community outreach activities all over Solomon Islands. As of 30 June 2014, the RSIPF community policing and family violence team had spoken to almost 113,000 Solomon Islanders as part of the outreach program. This is out of a total population of around 580,000. The outreach included the RSIPF visiting 176 schools, 244 villages, 49 churches, and holding 85 community consultations and 24 community events.

The awareness programs conducted targeted specific problems in each community. Common issues addressed were Family Violence, Kwaso, Marijuana, Alcohol and more recently Cyber Safety.

Long range community patrols are another tool that RAMSI is supporting to allow the RSIPF to effectively engage with remote communities. While the PPF provide the logistical support, the patrols themselves are led by RSIPF community policing officers. During these patrols, the RSIPF conducts education and awareness sessions on family violence, criminal law and other issues, such as alcohol and substance abuse. To get their messages across, RSIPF officers use training aids, including flip charts, to convey key messages and prompt discussion.

RAMSI is delivering a range of training to RSIPF officers across all ranks, from new recruits to senior staff, in order to promote cultural change within the RSIPF itself. For the RSIPF to be effective at influencing communities’ perceptions of family violence, it is essential that officers themselves are aware of the problem. Without this training support, the tendency was for police in the past, especially in rural communities, to consider domestic violence to be a private matter and not something in which they should intervene.

RAMSI’s training for new RSIPF recruits includes educational awareness on the dynamics of family violence and sensitivity training to assist recruits to understand its impact on victims. Training in proper data collection and reporting, as well as the importance of pursuing investigations, also continues to be delivered to front-line officers and new recruits.

RAMSI has also supported the review and development of critical legislation. The Family Protection Act, which will make it easier for the police to intervene on family violence issues, was developed with RAMSI support. It was passed by the National Parliament in 2014, but is awaiting gazettal. RAMSI is continuing to work closely with the RSIPF and other stakeholders to help move towards implementation of the Act in 2016.

RAMSI Participating Police Force (PPF) advisers are also working to build the capacity of RSIPF’s community policing and family violence teams through technical assistance. PPF work closely with the RSIPF’s Sexual Assault Unit, which handles the most serious sexual offences. RAMSI provided support in 2013-14 to renovate a building at Rove Police Headquarters for use by the Sexual Assault Unit. The renovation included improved privacy and is purposely designed for dealing with victims of sexual assault – the new facility includes bathroom facilities, break out areas, and interview rooms.

In order to help spread messages on family violence, the RSIPF have launched a campaign entitled ‘Naf Nao’ – which is Solomon Islands Pijin for ‘that’s enough now’. Family violence has traditionally been a closed topic in Solomon Islands’ society. The campaign has been used as an effective way for RSIPF teams to open conversations in villages.

As part of the campaign, a swathe of merchandise has been produced – pens, rulers, balls, wristbands and bags. Several billboards have also gone up around Honiara, which have been funded by RAMSI, in order to further spread these messages.

The Family Protection Act (FPA) 2014 was passed by Solomon Islands Parliament in August 2014 and gazetted on 1 April 2016. This legislation makes domestic violence a crime in Solomon Islands, and has a broad definition of domestic violence encompassing physical, sexual, economic and psychological abuse. It establishes a system of police issued safety notices, court issued protection orders and referrals to support services.

RAMSI has assisted RSIPF prepare for its obligations under the Act, helping develop and deliver a ‘train-the-trainer’ course in early 2016.  All RSIPF officers will receive a 2 day training course on the FPA to ensure that all officers have an understanding of the new legislation and will invoke their new powers appropriately. RAMSI is assisting the RSIPF Family Violence team achieve the roll out of the FPA training plan.