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previous   next  Contents - SEMINAR : Men and Violence Against Women
COE - Strasbourg, 7-8 October 1999

Police methods to counteract violence against women

Ms Helene GÖRTZEN
Stockholm County Police Authority, Sweden


In 1864, wife-beating was made a criminal offence under Swedish law.  Unfortunately, the violence is still with us, 130 years on. In 1999, women still live in fear of mental, physical and sexual abuse, and how is one to explain the fact that men are still beating up women in our modern, democratic society?

Alice, Najma, Irma and Lena - along with so many others, our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends, were murdered by their partner or ex-partner last year.  How can we as, for instance, police officers, help and protect the women and children whose living rooms have become torture chambers rather than the warm and safe place we all call home?

I am Helene Görtzen, and I work as a police officer in the Stockholm County Police Force.  I graduated from the Police Academy in 1982 and since November 1996 I have been co-ordinating a joint venture called Operation Kvinnofrid - that means roughly "Peace for Women".  Today, the steering committee consists of twelve regional and national authorities joined in the struggle against men's violence against women and consists of the heads of each of the authorities.  Operation Kvinnofrid is a long-term project and the authorities involved have drawn up policy documents and action plans stating the goals and methods for counteracting violence against women.  We seek to increase public knowledge and understanding of the issue by encouraging people to intervene whenever they become aware of violence being committed.  We also hope to persuade politicians, public figures and journalists to focus on the problem - men's violence against women.

In 1998, a new offence was introduced into the Penal Code in Sweden: Gross violation of a woman's integrity.  Its purpose is to deal with repeated, punishable acts directed by men against women having a close relationship with the perpetrator, but it  also covers children and other closely related persons: Gross violation of integrity.  In short, if a man commits certain criminal acts such as assault, unlawful threat or coercion, sexual or other molestation, sexual exploitation, etc against a woman to whom he is or has been married or with whom he is or has been cohabiting, he shall be sentenced for gross violation of the woman's integrity, instead of for the crime that each of the acts comprises.  A necessary condition for sentencing for the new offence is that the acts were part of a repeated violation of the woman's integrity and were likely to damage seriously her self confidence.  The punishment is imprisonment for at least six months, and at most six years.

Public campaigns, legislation, technical support and action plans are all fine, but what it comes down to is the individual police officer's attitudes towards the violence, and what kind of support he or she gets from the supervisor.  I strongly believe that, first of all, what we need is the authority to work with these issues on a long-term basis and to be able to get that authority we need to wake up the boss (if he's not already up).  Tell him the story of Alice, Najma, Irma and Lena.  Tell him the life of their children and how they lost their mother.  If that doesn't work, show him the statistics.  In Stockholm County alone, we have approximately 4000 reported crimes of wife-beating every year.  Add to that the percentage of crimes unknown to the police, which scientists estimate at about 70 or 80.  Add to that the number of rapes and threats committed every day by doctors, postmen, carpenters and police officers and then ask him:  would your daughter like to live in your precinct?

Fortunately, I didn't have to do all that.  My boss does not ask what we have done to satisfy the Department of Justice today.  He asks what we have done to help and support the women in Stockholm today.  It is my responsibility as a police officer to know what questions to ask when called to the scene of a crime or faced with a woman coming into the police station, and what questions not to ask, and most important to dare to listen to her answers and to know what to do next.  It is the responsibility of the police officer to inform the woman about where she and her children can get professional help, such as counselling, financial aid, shelter, etc. and it is the responsibility of the police officer to co-operate with other authorities and NGOs in order to minimise the risk of the woman falling between chairs.  Alone, we cannot make changes.  The chain of supporters has to be strong and well-educated, and to work with authority.

Therefore, extensive training programmes have been drawn up, not only for police officers but also for social workers, the health service and school personnel, among others, both on an individual and on a mutual basis.  Since 1992, we have set up 20 multi-agency groups in the County of Stockholm.  These groups come together to exchange knowledge and experience.  They come together for seminars and training and they also convey their knowledge to their colleagues on returning to their work place.  Police officers often serve as motors and initiators in these multi-agency groups.  So, with the support of our heads on the one hand, the work of the multi-agency groups on the other, training and the responsibility of the individual police officer, we CAN make a difference and we CAN fight men's violence against women.  And for as long as we know of one police officer making degrading marks directly to the woman or about the woman in question, we need to go on fighting.  I know that knowledge, support and co-operation will eventually lead to a change in attitudes.

We also need technical support to be able to help and protect.  In 1991, every police station in Sweden was equipped with so-called alarm kits which can be given to threatened women free of charge.  These kits consist of, for example, alarm systems for the home, acoustic alarms and mobile phones.  We can also, in very severe cases and for a limited period of time, assign a close protection officer to the woman.

And yet, with all these measures, taken, why do we still read about women like Alice and Najma every day?

As long as there is a considerable imbalance in the power relations between women and men in society, there will be violence.  As long as we consider men's violence against women and equal opportunities between men and women a women's issue, there will be violence.  Men, in general, need to stand up and join the struggle against men's violence against women.  Men need to show other men the way to a more equal, balanced society.  And I am glad to say that more and more men ARE joining.

I would like to close by telling you the true story of a four year-old boy.  This is an example of co-operation, in this case between a woman's shelter and the police in Stockholm.  Ben and his mother live in a shelter because Ben's father has mentally, physically and sexually abused Ben's mother.  The boy has on numerous occasions witnessed the abuse.  But Ben still loves his father, and from time to time he is allowed to call him from the shelter.  He does so on a speaker phone, and under the supervision of a social worker.

Ben's dream is to become the chief of police and he has often met police officers, together with his mother, and the police often visit the shelter just to make sure everything is OK.

One day, Ben is on the phone with his dad, and the social worker not far away (we don't want Ben to reveal the location of the shelter).  She hears him tell his father about what they had for dinner, what colour he has chosen for his new T-shirt, and things that are important for a four year-old.  All of a sudden, Ben's father says "That's nice, Ben, but where do you and mum live?".  A moment of silence follows, and before the social worker can intervene she hears Ben's voice loud and clear: "You won't believe this dad, but we live in a big, beautiful house full of police officers".

Ben and his mother now live in an apartment by themselves.  She is working and earning a living on her own, and Ben appears to be happy in kindergarten.  They look like any other mother and child when we meet in a café in the centre of Stockholm.  But we all know, though, that the worst scars are on the inside.

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Contents - SEMINAR : Men and Violence Against Women
COE - Strasbourg, 7-8 October 1999