The Police Gender & Children's Desks in Mbeya, Tanzania, are increasing reporting of sexual violence and helping survivors access timely care.
The Police Gender & Children's Desks opened in 2008 in Mbeya, Tanzania, to encourage increased reporting on sensitive issues related to gender, including sexual violence and rape.
Before the existence of the gender desks, victims of sexual violence – who are primarily women and children – would have to approach the main police desk to disclose their experience, which proved a major barrier and deterrent in reporting violence.
Ensuring safety and discretion
Officer Janet Masangano always wanted to serve her country. A former UN Peace Keeper, Janet now oversees the police’s violence prevention and response efforts for women, youth, adolescents and children at the Mbeya Police Gender & Children's Desks.
When Janet began her career with the police 19 years ago, there were far fewer female officers. But today, it is clear that gender has been integrated into many aspects of their work and greatly benefits the communities they serve.
Since the establishment of the gender desks, Janet and the Mbeya police have seen an increase in reporting of violence against children with hundreds of cases per year.
“It wasn’t that these cases weren’t happening," said Janet. "But rather that people didn’t know where to go and how they would be received."
Today, Mbeya’s Police Gender & Children's Desks provide a secure and discreet setting for survivors to report incidences of sexual violence.
The gender desks are in separate buildings from the main police office, and provide private rooms for women and children to be supported.
Officers working at the gender desks are also closely linked to healthcare teams and social service sectors to maximize efficiences and ensure survivors receive timely care.
When visiting police gender desks, children who have experienced sexual violence are accompanied by a supporter and undergo a physical exam where they are tested for STIs and HIV. If the child is over 12 years old and brought in within 72 hours of the incident, they are given PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), as a preventative measure to protect against HIV.
Girls over 12 years old are also given emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy (learn more about why every hour matters after rape why every hour matters after rape). After the physical exam, if necessary, the team works to place the child in safe temporary accommodation through the UNICEF program, FIT Families, while the ongoing legal processes take place.
The gender desks serve as a solution to a critical need: according to Tanzania’s Violence against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) both girls and boys experience high rates of sexual and physical violence. Tanzania’s VACS findings show that 27 percent of females and 12 percent of males report experiencing sexual violence before age 18. Additionally, 27 percent of girls and 19 percent of boys who had sexual intercourse before age 18 report their first experience was forced or coerced.
Janet and the police also collaborate with child protection teams to conduct outreach on the importance of reporting sexual violence and receiving post-rape care in the local community and in schools.
Mbeya’s Police Gender Desks served as a successful pilot program for many years. As a result of Tanzania’s 2013-2016 National Action Plan to address Violence Against Children, the gender desk model was scaled up and are now present in different regions of the country, including Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
Police gender desks and the training of their personnel are funded in Mbeya by UNICEF and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
“My dream for these children is for them to reach their own dreams according to their own desires.”
“What gives us hope is how we are rescuing these children. If I stop doing this, who will?”
“My request is that we reach more girls all over Tanzania. They need to know that there is a safe space to talk. We’re here.”
“My salon is famous within the community. People are brought to me even if I don’t know them because they know that I am a champion for the victims of sexual violence.”
“With the one stop center, more victims get the services they need on time, right away."
"I started working in violence prevention because I believe that children need to be well-protected to ensure that they can grow and develop."
This story was created as part of the Together for Girls partnership’s trip to Tanzania. Special thanks to DREAMS and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.