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35+ years of activism & feminism in Fiji

Published

07 May 2024

Author

Fiji Women's Rights Movement

Themes

Police Response Disappointing

6/05/2024

The Fiji Police have a duty and an important role in managing immediate harm and risk to cases of domestic violence. This urgent plea needs to be taken seriously by our law enforcement especially when we are facing an entrenched epidemic of domestic violence against women, with Fijian women being murdered, tortured and assaulted. We are seeing videos of women who have taken to social media to document their experiences with the police when seeking urgent assistance to protect herself and her family from her husband.

FWRM data shows the immense challenges that women experience in accessing justice pathways, especially during domestic violence where the stigma, shame, fear, financial security and children place women back into abusive relationships. For a woman who is coming to the police station to seek protection from her partner or husband, must always be treated with urgency because it has become a life-or-death situation for women in this country.

It takes women a total of 868 days (about 2.5 years) before trying to get help, and when they do, their experiences with Police are:

  • Ony 50% feel safe in the station.
  • Women victim/survivors are sexually harassed or threatened by police officers (8 women said they were sexually harassed or threatened by police officers) and;
  • Only 37% were referred to other services such as safe houses, medical and counselling assistance

The rate of women being murdered by their partners and husbands is rising, and yet we still see Police Officers lacking urgency when a woman is seeking help. Do our officers not get adequate training on how to handle violence against women cases? What is it?

FWRM takes note that the Fiji Police Force is undergoing organisational review by introducing the “Restore Blue” initiative of instilling human rights values in their day-to-day work. We demand accountability on why some police officers are not seeming to align themselves with these aspirational goals. Despite going through gender sensitisation training during their orientation, police officers continue to perpetrate and perpetuate violence in our communities.

It is alarming to see so many police officers themselves breaking the law. According to ODPP annual statistics for 2023, 4 police officers were charged with criminal offences. Just last month - April 2024, one police officer was charged with a serious sexual offence. It is no wonder that police officers are not able to adequately handle complaints, when they themselves are on the wrong side of the law.

FWRM asks what role is our Police Force playing? Are they working towards ending all forms of violence and discrimination against all women and girls, or are they making things worse? We as a society, and the State as the ultimate duty bearer, must reflect on this as we head into newer forms of violence being perpetrated towards women and girls, particularly with increasing digitalisation. It now also seems that the only way victims/survivors may find escape or get some form of assistance is through social media posting.

The opening of an investigation into the conduct of the police officer mentioned in the most recent viral video is a positive step towards accountability. However, it also underscores the need for systemic reforms and better training within the police force to ensure that all officers are equipped to handle cases of domestic violence effectively and with sensitivity. 

FWRM commends all organisations who are actively working towards ending all harmful practices. But we still need to do better. The Police need to do better. Any woman with children seeking help would want to feel that the Police would do whatever it takes to make her, and her children feel safe and certainly not the other way around.

Ends