Police officers from Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, spark a movement to fight violence against women

In Tuzla Canton a campaign based on behavior impact has brought about changes in the cantonal law enforcement when it comes to combating domestic violence and violence against women. The campaign titled ‘You hear, you see, you know – REACT’, organized by the Association Vive žene, within the UN Women regional programme “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds”, funded by the European Union, comes at an especially important time, when due to COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a drastic increase in the number of people who are in vulnerable positions and in need of protection and support.

The work of Vive žene under the regional programme has a particular focus on police officers in the Tuzla Canton as they are one of the first points of contact for victims when asking for help and protection. Records from the Ministry of Interior from 2019 show that in only 20% of reported domestic violence cases police officers proposed some of the protection measures prescribed by legislation (restraining order, eviction from home, mandatory psychosocial or addiction treatment, apprehension and temporary custody etc.).

“One of the significant achievements of this project is the active participation of the police in the planning of project activities, their motivation and the words with which, through video messages, they address not only victims of domestic violence, but also the entire population,” said Jasna Zečević, the director of Vive žene.

Using a methodology called Communications for Behavioral Impact (COMBI), the main objective is to increase the rate of proposed protection measures by police officers. As part of the COMBI campaign, ‘You hear, you see, you know – REACT’ the aim is to nudge those who are not heard in their pleas for help or who do not have the courage to report violence. The campaign is encouraging all citizens to act responsibly and report domestic violence to the phone number 122 – the police. The campaign includes a ‘door-to-door’ initiative by student volunteers and police officers to citizens informing them about domestic violence, the existing legislation on protection from domestic violence and what other additional measures are available to protect survivors.

The door-to-door campaign within this project brought together, for the first time, police officers and young people, students who, together, communicated directly with citizens and questioned views on domestic violence,” said Jasna Zečević.

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the comprehensive campaign has been able to reach 850 citizens in ‘door-to-door’ visits, and over one million people through social media content.

In order to better define the response of police officers, together with Vive žene, the Ministry produced the ‘Guidelines for the behavior of police officers in cases of domestic violence’ and so far 1600 police officers are using the Guidelines in their daily work. The Ministry has also posted the Law on domestic violence protection on their website, giving visibility to their commitment in fighting this issue.

From the beginning, the effects in the work of the police were felt. Attention was paid to things that had gone unnoticed before. The Guidelines were especially useful in terms of recording and taking concrete measures against the perpetrators,” said Safet Ibrahimović, former police director of the Tuzla Ministry of Interior and one of the drivers of the campaign in its onset.

The importance of collaboration between CSOs that provide services to victims of violence, such as Vive žene, and first responders, becomes vivid in joint campaigns such as this one.

What makes us even more content is the feedback from police officers, who proudly let us know when they go out in the field after reporting violence and suggesting a protective measure. This is something we wanted to achieve, not only to propose protective measures prescribed by law, but to do so with satisfaction, understanding and respect for the human rights of victims of violence. We believe that by campaigning on the importance of applying the prescribed measures and standards, we have achieved that police officers are motivated and that there has been a change in their behavior as well,” said Ms. Zečević.

Vive žene – Center for Therapy and Rehabilitation is a Tuzla-based non-governmental organization that has for the past 27 years continuously worked to eliminate the consequences of war trauma, prevent all forms of violence, build multi-ethnic cooperation and respect for human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina.