Are all-women police stations (AWPS) a good way to handle sexual assault and other crimes disproportionately affecting women? Nirvikar Jassal, a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford King Center on Global Development, said that while AWPS were created to combat gendered violence, his research in India shows they might not be a perfect solution at a talk hosted by the Center for South Asia on Thursday.
Qualitatively, officers told Jassal that women were more comfortable discussing certain issues, such as sexual assault, with female officers.
“These institutions do enable complainants to speak freely about the assault that they endured and their grievances in front of an authority figure,” Jassal said.
However, according to Jassal, AWPS in India may be dissuading formal reports of crimes. He said that he observed AWPS instead utilizing mediation and reconciliation where the two parties are brought in for counseling, instead of more official reports. Women officers told Jassal that they focused on counseling in order to avoid potential consequences for complainants that might come with issuing formal reports.
“That may, I would argue, limit victims’ choices,” Jassal said.
Additionally, AWPS can lead to bureaucratic confusion, according to Jassal. Officers in India would redirect complainants to AWPS stations because they thought cases were “beneath them.”
“The implementation of the women’s police stations enables officers to turn away complaints or forward complaints, for reasons that have nothing to do with jurisdiction, but simply that the complainant is a woman,” Jassal said.
And this disorganization is not the only unintended consequence. Women police officers will often have to travel significant distances because, unlike zonal police stations, they are responsible for entire districts. This travel also creates monetary constraints.
While conducting his research, one woman told Jassal that she would ask complainants for gas money so that she could investigate their cases because otherwise she would not have been able to afford the transportation.
This financial burden can create challenges for not only those attempting to report cases, but also for women officers, Jassal explained. Due to demands in AWPS, officers will be posted to these stations and taken off of other cases. Some then felt as if they were “being marginalized from cases that the broader police bureaucracy may take more seriously,” Jassal said.