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08/28/2013

Ghana’s police division unequipped to aid victims of domestic abuse by Jessica M. Campbell

Dasaah by Jessica Campbell

Elizabeth Dasaah, national secretariat for the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), points to what is supposed to be unit's National Crisis Response Centre, an essential location in Accra to aid victims of domestic abuse. Instead, the building sits unused and unfinished for it's fourth year. 

Most people move forward to find solutions to problems. But Elizabeth Dasaah looks back.  

 Sitting at her desk at the police headquarters in Accra, the national secretariat for the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), tells my colleague and I why the division, established in 2009 to specifically service Ghana’s abused, is struggling. 

 “We need more staff,” she says.  

In 2012, Ghanaians reported over 15,000 cases of domestic abuse to DOVVSU, which is an increase of 3,000 claims from 2011. Dasaah says the unit responded in 2013 by hiring 50 additional psychologists to their team of about 500 people. Meaning, in theory, each staff member adheres to 30 cases each year. 

“But our biggest challenge is office accommodation,” says Dasaah. Adding, it’s one reason they have a limited number of employees. They don’t have room to house any more staff. 

She stands from her chair and turns around. Drawing the curtain, she points outside to what is supposed to be DOVVSU’s National Crisis Response Centre. A building the unit started constructing in 2009 to be the main location where victims can report their cases of abuse in Accra.

 But as it stands now, both figuratively and physically, the building serves only as a reminder to Dasaah that her unit is not equipped to help Ghana’s victims of domestic violence. Nearly four years later and it sits unfinished and unused, just concrete stacked on concrete right behind Dasaah’s office. 

“We need more resources,” she says. “We need external support.” 

The centre has 31 rooms by design, which will make up cells to detain abusers, as well as, offices for psychologists, Dasaah adds. 

“Usually the challenge for us has been how confidential and private the cases have been handled,” says Wendy Abbey, the executive director at the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) in Accra, a group that provides free legal aid to Ghana’s abused, oversees their trials in court, and also, accompanies victims to DOVVSU when filing their claims. “That environment of comfort, that environment of ensuring confidentiality is absent.”

 Abbey says there are usually multiple DOVVSU officers in an office at a time, regardless of a victim’s presence. 

 More funding can also provide DOVVSU officers with vehicles so they can improve response time to the crime scenes, says Dasaah. Which, none have at the moment. 

 But, while DOVVSU looks for resources to better equip them externally, the unit has internal issues needing attention.  

“We need to standardize our approach,” says Dasaah, as she explains her employees have no regimented or systematic protocol when dealing with the abused. The unit’s current tactics, she adds, are “not measurable.”

Which is a worry to people like Abbey at the HRAC. 

The group conducted a study on spousal murder last year, another increasing statistic in Ghana. The group found that there is a link between domestic abuse and spousal murder, the more extreme the abuse, the more likely it will end in murder.  

“The abuse builds up to the point you would have a murder,” says Abbey. “It’s sort of like the worst form of domestic violence that can ever happen to anybody in a domestic relationship.” 

With a surplus of cases, limited staff, and no systematic protocols, it’s these more serious, life-threatening cases of abuse DOVVSU might inadvertently overlook. 

 “Along the lines they [DOVVSU] drop the cases,” says Adowa Yeboah, one of the 104 lawyers at the HRAC that aids the abused. “They [the abused] always tell us we have been there [DOVVSU] already and nothing is happening.”

The HRAC’s 2012 study says there have been 53 spousal murders in Ghana since 2010. Six were male, the rest female. This year, there have been five spouses murdered since May. According to the study, the country’s average is 24 per annum. 

 DOVVSU is currently working on developing standardized procedures and training manuals for its staff when dealing with victims, says Dasaah. 

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