Gaps in police response, perpetrators walk free: Sergeant

When Police Sergeant Ruth Murup joined the Lae Metropolitan Police Family and Sexual Violence Unit (FSVU) in 2014, she found that many perpetrators of violence were being allowed to walk free.

The 26 year veteran in the police force discovered that this is due to gaps in the police response to family and sexual violence.

On many occasions cases did not make it through to prosecution in court. This could be for reasons such as the lack of correctly filled out paperwork or the absence of crucial documentation, such as medical reports. This results in further distress on survivors and frustration for police officers and lawyers.

However, positive changes are underway. 

A strong network of committed individuals from different organisations who make up the Morobe Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee are improving coordination and information sharing between service providers. The committee is chaired by Lae Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Anthony Wagambie Junior.

As part of the efforts to improve FSV services, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and Office of the Public Prosecutor (OPP) recently organised an FSV Investigation and Prosecution Training for 32 police officers and staff from the Public Solicitor’s Office and OPP based in Lae.

Sergeant Murup pushed for officers from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the Sexual Offences Squad to be included, saying, “If they are trained and sensitised [to issues of FSV] then they will be able to investigate cases properly and will be better equipped to assist survivors to access the services they need.”

The workshop was supported by the Australian government through the Justice Services and Stability for Development Program (JSS4D).

Opening eyes

Among those at the training was Inspector Russell Ejimbari, who oversees the work of 48 members of the Lae Metropolitan CID. The senior officer and two of his detectives enrolled in the course.

Because of his position, a lot of FSV cases were elevated to Inspector Ejimbari’s level. Although he has seniority and a lot of experience in the police force, his knowledge of the Family Protection Act and issues relating to FSV was limited so he would address cases that were more serious in nature and referred the bulk of other cases to the FSV Unit. 

“The more I know about [FSV] and the more my subordinates come to workshops like this, the better informed we are to be able to handle FSV cases and we can share the workload with the FSV Unit,” Inspector Ejimbari said.

In her time with the Lae Metropolitan FSV Unit, Sergeant Murup has seen the number of officers double to eight officers. The increase means the unit has the capacity to respond effectively to the growing number of FSV survivors seeking assistance at the police station.

“There is more awareness [of FSV as a crime] in the community, and because of this, more and more survivors are coming in to receive help,” she said.

Many cases of FSV are handled by the FSV Unit, which receives complaints, investigates cases, assists survivors to obtain protection orders and connects survivors to other service providers. 

Serious assaults such as those that are sexual in nature (including child sex offences) are referred to the Sexual Offences Squad (SOS) or, in its absence, the local CID.

For this reason, Sergeant Murup thinks it is essential that all officers, particularly those in CID and the SOS, are better positioned to effectively respond to FSV.

“My aim is getting supervisors from other units to attend this training, so that they get to understand FSV and share this knowledge with their officers.”

The effective investigation and prosecution of FSV crimes is not solely a police matter – other government agencies also have vital roles and have attended the training.

Bring in the lawyers

Among those attending the workshop in Lae was the Public Solicitor’s Office (PSO) Instruction Officer Fiona Wafi.

Wafi, who is yet to complete her training as a lawyer, says the workshop has opened her eyes to the possibility of working in criminal law.

Until now, she has mostly dealt with civil law matters, and most of the lawyers she works with in the PSO specialise solely in either civil or criminal law.

“But now, with this training, I can see that I can do both,” she says.

Wafi was pleasantly surprised and happy to help police officers at the workshop who were turning to her for advice about preparing cases for court.

Public Prosecutor Podros Kaluwin, who opened the workshop, says the high rate of sexual offences in the country underlined the crucial need for the training.

“Police face a lot of difficulties and barriers in their work, including cultural barriers where communities and families do not openly discuss issues around sex and sexual offences, and gathering evidence in relation to child victims can be very challenging,” Kaluwin says.

“The OPP and the RPNGC working together is very important. Although there is a separation of powers constitutionally, we need to continue to work together to improve responses in relation to sex offences, and I acknowledge support from the Australian government in cooperation with the OPP and the police on this.”

As Sergeant Murup contemplates the increasing demand for the FSV Unit’s services, she emphasises the importance of changing attitudes.

“Right now, my problem is not manpower, it is capacity building across the organisation, at all levels,” she says. “It comes back to us – the right people in the right places with the right attitude.”

Eventually Sergeant Murup wants all police, no matter their rank or department, to be aware of and understand crimes relating to family and sexual violence, and to know how to help survivors get access to the services they need.

This workshop has been a small but important step towards achieving this along the way.

(Police officers participating in a group activity at the recent workshop)

Press release