Community Policing - From Sex-workers to Crime Prevention Agents
Many former sex-workers in the Rubavu district of Rwanda now live a life of dignity and purpose with the support of the Rwanda National Police (RNP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Some of the noteworthy achievements of this program are
- Community policing has been successful in proactive prevention of crime by partnering with the public and increase police visibility in all communities to solve, prevent and reduce crime.
- Community policing committees working with former sex workers have enabled them to quit prostitution and rehabilitate themselves into society. At the same time, they have proven to be valuable sources of information in crime prevention and indictment of criminals.
- Community policing has led citizens to have greater trust in the RNP. The Rwanda Governance Scorecard produced by the RGB in 2014, presented results from a nationwide survey, which indicated that 94% of the citizens trust RNP.
As part of its community policing activities, the RNP supports the Abahindutse Association of former sex workers, rehabilitating them into society and involving them in the work of the community police in the district. Adhering to the meaning of the word ‘Abahindutse – those who change’, the community policing efforts of the RNP have changed the lives of the sex-workers and those of the communities they belong to. In Rwanda, prostitution is illegal. Under article 363 of the Penal code, anyone who incites, exploits, facilitates or abets prostitution, is liable to at least one year in prison. Prostitution not only leads to exploitation of the sex workers but also contributes to crime. The RNP, through its community policing programme, carry out sensitization campaigns with sex-workers encouraging them to quit prostitution and work with them in preventing criminal activities such as prostitution, and other serious crimes including murder, robbery and illicit drug abuse. To that, a former sex-worker and member of the Abahindutse association said,
“We were gathered by police officers and were sensitized to quit prostitution. They told us that what we were doing was not worthy of a Rwandan woman and we should quit selling our dignity, because there is no real benefit in it”.
UNDP provides technical and financial support to the RNP, including special training for police officers and community policing committees (CPCs), in the endeavor of promoting community policing for crime prevention. The RNP, in partnership with community policing committees, in turn trains and mobilizes citizens to participate in crime prevention. The Abahindutse Association showcases a success story for such efforts. Hundreds of former sex-workers from Rubavu district have been mobilized to quit prostitution and join hands with the police in fighting and preventing crime. In their testimonials, the former sex-workers emphasized that through sensitization efforts by the RNP, they have understood the benefits of working and developing their country rather than remaining in prostitution and risk contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
So far, UNDP has trained around six thousand community policing members in crime prevention. UNDP has provided them with cellular telephones to help them build better communication networks with the police. This has further enabled the RNP to adopt the community-policing tool as a strategy to build ties and work closely with members of the communities and overcome crime.
Community policing has been influential in reducing crime throughout the country and is run on a philosophy that promotes proactive partnerships with the communities. Community Policing Committees (CPCs) in Rubavu, working with the former sex-workers and the Abahindutse Association, has not only contributed to crime prevention but also transformed the lives of the sex-workers. This effort led them to leave prostitution and rehabilitate themselves into society again. At the same time, the police has been able to reduce crime rates and apprehend criminals using information from the sex-workers.
In their testimonies, the former sex-workers and now members of the Abahindutse Association stated that instead of remaining trapped in prostitution, they were able to change. They have started small projects that give them value as Rwandan citizens and contribute to the development of their country. They have been able to create a saving community and resolve some of their social challenges. Ms. Odile Mugabekazi, the representative of the Association said,
“We no longer have time we used to spend looking for men at night and sheltering thieves and other criminals. This last month of March, we helped in arresting 10-armed thieves in a region called Shyorongi; we pointed fingers to 15 drug abusers and smugglers. We also helped the police arrest a young man who had raped a girl”
She further adds,
“Through our cooperative, we managed to start saving some money and now we have saved up to 26 million Rwf. We have also been able to pay health insurance for 1500 of our members who could not afford it. We were also able to help some of our members get vocational trainings like sewing for a better alternative income generation to prostitution”
UNDP will continue to support the RNP through technical and financial means such as trainings and contribute to RNP’s efforts of encouraging citizens to be involved in community policing activities aimed at reducing crime rates in the community.