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Combating gender-based violence requires collective action. This year United Nations Population Fund has conducted nearly 50 events across Ukraine to foster it. In what way and why tells Kostyntyn Boychuk, regional coordinator of the program.

  • When did you start this program in Ukraine?

Our program started in five Ukrainian oblasts in 2015 as a humanitarian response. We had to react rapidly to the humanitarian crisis in the east of Ukraine. It was then that we started to test how mobile teams of sociological and psychological aid would function. In two years we expanded our work to 12 oblasts. So, already developed models got utilized in regions that are less affected by the conflict. Models proved to work successfully there too. The state came with the same conclusion. Thus, mobile teams, shelters and day care centers have now become a part of the national response system. They are integrated into the national legislation and can be used without our support.

  • What were or still are the biggest obstacles in providing qualitative victim assistance, in your opinion?

Our research back in 2014 showed us that every fifth woman aged 15-49 had suffered from physical or sexual violence.

Violence is a large-scale problem. Nevertheless, victims do not seek assistance due to a number of hurdles. Well, even if they do seek, it is quite complicated to receive qualitative victim assistance.

Yes, we do have police, social services, healthcare providers, unlike many countries, where basic medical services are absent. Yet in Ukraine everybody got used to work autonomously, separately from each other. Usually there is no coordination or transfer of cases between them. So, what do we have as a result? A victim firstly asks for protection from the police. The latter can provide it basically only during its stay in the vicinity. To punish an offender one has to file a complaint to the police. But it happens very often that a victim does not want to do it. Moreover, she does not seek psychological assistance.

  • What is the difference between approaches of the police and mobile teams in this regard?

Let’s start with the fact that they have different tasks. The police provide crisis response, safety and security and restore social justice. They work with an offender in order to stop violence and prevent its repetition. Yet, as I have already said, to make it happen, a filed complaint is needed. Victims often refuse to write it though. In the meanwhile, a mobile team does not work with an offender and does not intervene in the situation of violence. A mobile team consists of a psychologist, a social worker. They can give assistance, yet do not intervene. Their task is to work with a victim. If there is a hazard, they call the police. Nowadays, in the wake of decentralization, local authorities are accountable for creating such services. Ultimately, the community helps the victim to overcome consequences of violence.

  • If the whole community is engaged, perhaps, there are risks that a victim would be afraid of publicity or condemnation?

Yes, in our society violence is often considered to be one’s private business. There is still this image of a woman’s role as a keeper and a caretaker, which justifies domestic violence. So, of course, the victim could be scared of publicity and decide to conceal her situation. We are aware of it, but we also understand what to do with it. Mobile teams know very well how to work with victims and ensure confidentiality. Trust building is pivotal in this case.

  • What is needed to build this trust?

We need a well-functioning response system that envisions case transfer. So far the victim had to ask for help from the police, from social services, from healthcare providers or lawyers. Each of them worked solely with a fragment of her story. Nobody dealt with the whole problem.

That is why United Nations Population Fund joined the process.
We started to gather representatives of all these different bodies at one roundtable and develop joint decisions together. They have to analyze what services they have, what they don’t, what is lacking, what has to be added. There should be the same understanding of the problem and the interaction map within all entities that have a stake in combating gender-based violence. Then they set up an action plan together. As a result of such a roundtable they should have answers to two major questions: what we do together from now on and how much it will cost us. In fact, we have conducted around 50 trainings and seminars in 12 regions of Ukraine to enable it.

We found out that very often these people had not known each other before the training. So we created a space for them to get acquainted and interact. Provided experts and opportunities, so that they could develop documents together and start using them in their work. Also, let’s not forget that such a joint response system will help them to process cases way faster and take more. Not dozens, but hundreds.

  • How will a police officer’s work look like now?

He/she will have an algorithm for action that will allow quick decision making in every situation. So, there will be standard procedures with defined action variations. Police officers know their job. Yet engaging other specialists in their work is a different story. There were problems in this regard, and now they can be fixed on a regional level.

  • Apart from trainings, you have also mentioned seminars. Can you elaborate a bit more?

Trainings are held for cross-sectoral teams. Seminars, on the other hand, are for authorities that are responsible for creating a network for victims. Every tenth victim seeks help from the police. It is not a high number. Yet even less people seek social or psychological assistance. Social services simply do not have capacity to work with all the cases. Therefore, many people have to handle effects of violence on their own.

During the expert seminar we figure out together how many services should be there in order to respond to cases of gender-based violence. The community might refuse providing help, saying that it does not have specialists or resources. So we help to determine a number of services needed in this network (3 or 30 mobile teams and why), how many shelters and daycare centers have to be created, considering situation in the region. During this one day seminar we help to calculate how much it costs to provide access to qualitative services in these communities.

  • Do you plan to support these authorities and monitor their cooperation after trainings and seminars?

We will be able to estimate the effectiveness of our trainings not sooner than the first quarter of 2020. Right now they are approving their action plans for the next year. For us it was the first time to conduct such a massive training work, so it will be very interesting to see the results.
We have to understand that an individual tends to burn out very quickly, when the whole responsibility for the complex case lies with him/her. A police officer, for instance. That is why collective work is needed for finding a solution. Furthermore, the victim herself needs to have interest in going though the process and be ready for the solution, to trust this team. It requires time, and it is not doable within one training. Yet a training gives a fundamental basis for collective work. We see in social media posts from the police that they have started to engage mobile teams more after our trainings. It is already a very good result.

  • Do you conduct trainings for police officers as well?

Yes, we support the training of police officers for new “Polinas”. These are special police groups that deal precisely with domestic violence cases. Next week we will conduct courses for mobile teams and shelters’ employees. We organize such trainings to all stakeholders engaged in combating gender-based violence in Ukraine. We have also started paying special attention to incidents of violence in families of former ATO soldiers.

  • Is there more violence in these families?

No, this is not the main point. The main point is that any conflict increases a level of violence in the society in general. One of the reasons is the fact that individuals suffer from a long-term stress. ATO veterans do not receive post-military service assistance.

Furthermore, it might be more difficult for their wives to seek help from their community. A moral authority of the fighters is quite high.

So, the community could react in the following way: “He is a hero, so, please, pull yourself together.” Being aware of all these complexities, we provided additional training for mobile teams on how to deal with such families. Moreover, there is one ATO ex-fighter in one of the mobile teams. We are piloting this model. Let’s see what impact it will have on solving difficult cases.