A growing number of governments, including some in the developing world (the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Malaysia, Puerto Rico), have passed laws or reformed their penal codes to criminalize domestic violence. And a substantial number of countries-including Argentina,
Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela-have bills under consideration (ISIS International 1993). Often such laws criminalize psychological as well as physical violence and provide for orders of protection- legally binding court orders that prohibit one person from abusing another. Under the most progressive statutes judges can require a man to leave his home, establish temporary custody and visitation arrangements for children, make the husband pay financial support, forbid telephone threats and harassment, and order the battered to attend counseling. Many women prefer protection orders to criminal persecution because they do not want their abuser jailed or wish to avoid the trauma and expense of a trial.
The effectiveness of protection orders depends largely on how well they are enforced. Too often, protection orders become meaningless pieces of paper because police and judges refuse to impose the penalties for noncompliance. Where orders are enforced rigorously, however, they can offer a substantial subset of women considerable protection, and make it possible for them and their children to shy at home. Of course, for some men-those who are especially violent, jealous, and obsessive-the orders are essentially useless; the only way to protect their partners is to incarcerate the abuser.
Elsewhere, governments have passed laws against particular types of violence common in their countries. The Indian government has passed a law against "Eve teasing, " the sexual and physical harassment of girls and women in public. Both India and Pakistan have passed laws against dowry harassment, and Bangladesh has outlawed acid throwing. None of these laws is widely enforced, however (Heise 1989). Colombia’s congress is considering a law that would make secuestro (the confinement or isolation) of a wife by a husband a crime. The law was proposed in re spouse to the growing trend among Colombian men to lock up their wives to prevent infidelity (Maridos Secuestradores 1992).
As with protection orders, such laws are only as good as their enforcement, and it is in implementation that the legal response to violence most notably fails. Nonetheless, important initiatives have been taken in recent years to improve the response of the justice system to gender-based violence (box 6). Perhaps the best known has been the creation of women-only police stations, an innovation that has spread from Brazil to Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, Costa Rica, and Argentina." Data from Brazil’s special police stations show that women only units have greatly facilitated the reporting of abuse. In Sao Paulo, for example, reported rape cases went from 67 in 1985, before the women’s police stations were opened, to 841 in 1990. Sao Paulo has 96 of the country’s 125 women’s police stations; these registered 79,000 of the national total of 205,000 crimes against women reported between July 1991 and August 1992, suggesting that the number of reported cases would be much higher women’s police stations were widely available in other states (Dimenstein 1992).
Although the women’s police stations are an important innovation, they have also had problems. Many stations have been overrun with women seeking assistance that the stations do not provide: counseling, legal advice, and help with state bureaucracies. The original plans to assign social workers and lawyers to each station have not materialized. The female police officers assigned to these stations become easily demoralized because their male peers do not consider their job "real police work."
Moreover, observers have learned that, without training, female officers are not necessarily more sensitive to women’s needs than their male colleagues (although women have proven more open and responsive to training). Finally, the special stations have not increased the rate of prosecution because at higher levels the justice system remains unchanged. Nonetheless, because the stations encourage women to come forward, they have helped deter violence among men who worry about being reported to the police.
In industrial countries the most recent innovation in combating violence against women has been "coordinated community intervention." This strategy brings together the policymakers concerned-from battered women’s groups, law enforcement agencies, the justice system, batterer treatment programs, and other relevant groups-in regular meetings to develop a coordinated response to domestic violence. Once policies are developed, lower level representatives are assigned to meet regularly to oversee their implementation. Roughly 75 to 100 communities in the United States have adopted this model. The strategy includes several key elements. There are written policies about how each agency should respond and agreements on coordination and sharing data. A paid coordinator manages the task force and oversees the processing of cases. Victims’ advocates are trained to help battered women negotiate the court system and other social service agencies, and training is also given to all relevant staff on the dynamics of abuse and related policies. Local shelters or safe homes are provided, as are batterer treatment programs. And there is active monitoring-preferably by an autonomous women’s group-to ensure that each agency carries out its policy and coordinates properly with other actors. Similar community intervention strategies are being implemented in Canadian cities (Heise and Chapman 1992).