We meet Caren Ruto at the Nchiiru Police Station and she quickly usher us in to the Gender Desk office and offers us seats with a warm smile and gentle spirits; a gesture that takes away the distress and stress that is usually associated with visiting a police station.
The Gender Desk office is unique and one is quick to notice the walls which are neatly painted in white; the walls come alive with informational posters designed to provide useful information on gender based violence referral pathways to the survivors who visit the office for help.
Caren is among the 38 police officers from Meru County who were trained on GBV related laws and efficient handling of GBV cases with an aim to equip them with the necessary skills to properly document and store evidence from the first point of reporting or initial contact to ensuring the survivors get appropriate response in the referral system.
“After the trainings I came back and shared the information with fellow officers who are now more sensitive to the survivors of GBV. Through that, the male officers manning the reception desk now refer survivors to the gender desk for help. Previously, survivors would come but shy away from reporting,” she notes.
A few kilometers away in Kariene, resides Susan Achieng; a police Copral whose work also bore resemblance to that of Caren. Both of them are charged with the duty of supporting GBV survivors at the police gender desks in their respective stations.
For Susan, her duties go beyond the call of office; she has taken it upon herself to create awareness on GBV issues among communities living in Munjwa Village, Imenti Central Sub-County. “It is my duty to let the communities know what I do in the gender desk as police officer; I work for the general public. And if they do not know what I do then I think I am not well placed,” she says
At the village level she works with the local administration structures like Chiefs to organize community Barazas that bring on board men and women from across the villages. Chiefs are well known at the community level and are often the first point of referral to GBV cases.
“When we go to the community we discuss the sexual offences that occur including all the other forms of GBV like FGM and Domestic Violence. I have a village that is prone to defilements and rape that we are working to increase vigilance and bring perpetrators to book as well as make communities understand that such crimes are against the law and should not be solved out of court,” Susan explains.
She adds: “We tell them what to do when affected by sexual offense and how they can report. Some survivors keep quiet because of the stigma associated with rape, defilement and domestic violence.”
She says at first she was just a normal police officer but when CREAW came on board and organized for trainings for police officers stationed in Meru County she came to understand the importance of going to the in-depths when investigating GBV cases to have solid evidence for successful prosecution.
“We have what is called Tamman where we come together as officers to discuss the emerging issues and the needed response. I shared what I had learnt with them and the reaction was positive. They were eager to learn and wanted to know more,”
Even though her advocacies in the community continue to gain momentum; Susan expresses concern over the lack of safe shelters for the survivors of gender based violence that has forced her to sometime stay with the survivors to protect them from repeated attacks.
Through the Haki Yetu, Jukumu Letu (Our rights, our responsibility) initiative anchored within the Access to Justice program, the Center for Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW) has been working to strengthen the capacity of police officers with an aim investigate and prosecute offenders effectively. The trainings targets police officers who mans the gender desks and crime office with an aim to enhance their knowledge and skills on documentation, proper storage and handling of GBV exhibits as well as proper ways to create networks and linkages in the grassroots and with key actors working on the prevention and response to gender based violence in the larger Meru County.