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Box 6 Innovative justice system reform projects.
In the United States feminist lawyers organized the Judicial Education Program to Promote Equality for Women and Men in the Courts (Heise and Chapman 1992). This program has succeeded in getting more than half the states to form “gender-bias” task forces to detect and attack sexism in the courts. The task forces, made up of judges and community representatives, have uncovered devastating testimony by victims of abuse about their mistreatment in the courts and have prompted the recall of some judges and increased training for judges and prosecutors. The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development is undertaking a similar project that is analyzing the laws in seven Asian countries (Fernando 1993).
In Harare, Zimbabwe, the Musassa Project works with local police and prosecutors to sensitize them to issues of domestic violence and rape. Commenting on their work, the organizers observe that ” the specifics of an educational strategy aimed to justice system professionals must be very carefully devised. In many cases, credibility must be ensured by involving a legal professional in the education process, and the content must be highly dependable and informed. Another effective technique is to facilitate a workshop with one part of the legal system acting as host to another (police hosting prosecutors, for example)” (Stewart 1992).
In Costa Rica, El Instituto Legal de los Naciones Unidas y Desarollo (ILANUD) offers gender sensitivity training, emphasizing violence against women, to prosecutors, judges, lawyers, and other professionals. In 1992 the project conducted 32 workshops throughout Latin America (Facto 1993).
In Malaysia five organizations joined forces at the end of 1984 to form the Joint Action Group Against Violence Against Women (JAG). JAG organized a major media campaign against rape, initiated dialogue with the police and the medical profession, and successfully lobbied for the creation of women-only rape teams on the police force. The Health Ministry agreed in 1987 to set up one-stop crisis centers in all hospitals, staffed by medical personnel and trained volunteers from local women’s organizations. The centers have not yet been established, however (APDC 1989).
Health care system reform.
The health care system is well placed to identify and refer victims of violence. It is the only public institution likely to interact with all women at some point in their lives-as they seek contraception, give birth, or seek care for their children. Experience has shown that this access is important.
Even in countries with a strong movement against violence, many abused women never choose to call the police or a crisis hot line, the two most widely developed sources for referral. Advocates in Connecticut, for example, estimate that only 10 percent of battered women living in that state ever come in contact with its extensive network of legal advocates, shelters, and crisis centers. This may be in large part because the system relies primarily on the police and crisis hot lines to inform victims about the services available (Heise and Chapman 1992). In politically repressive countries, the likelihood of the police serving as an adequate referral system is oven leas realistic.”
Women who are unable or unwilling to seek help from the police or other government authorities may nonetheless admit abuse when questioned gently and in private by a supportive health care provider. Providers have found that, contrary to their expectations, women are willing to admit abuse when questioned directly and non-judgmentally. For example, when Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas added four abuse assessment questions to its standard intake form, 8.2 percent of women identified themselves as physically abused. When a provider asked the same questions in person, 29 percent of women reported abuse (Bullock and others 1989). Researchers have found that three to four simple questions are generally enough to screen for physical and sexual abuse (see box 7 for examples). Questions should be asked in person and in private, and the questioner should make sure that the potential abuser is not present to avoid putting the woman at additional risk.
Some who have implemented programs to screen for abuse at prenatal care clinics and emergency rooms note that asking itself can be an important intervention “It is my impression that some women have been waiting their whole lives for someone to ask.” notes Dr. Ana Flavia d’Oliveira (1993), a Brazilian public health physician who initiated an abuse screening program among her prenatal care patients. Providers can emphasize to a woman that no one deserves to be beaten or raped, and help her think through options for protecting herself (for example, seeking safety at a friend’s house). In urban areas providers can refer women to a growing number of services for legal or psychological support (see the section below on assisting victims). Even where no external support exists, having a sympathetic individual acknowledge and denounce the violence in a woman’s life offers relief from isolation and self-blame.
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