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Connecting police and communities to stop sexual violence

Through its Girl Power Project, Plan International Nicaragua is working alongside the local police commission to prevent sexual violence in rural areas. Special Police Commissioner Carmen Poveda is at the forefront of this effort.

Gender based violence
Special Police Commissioner Carmen Poveda.

“I have been Special Police Commissioner at the Women’s National Police Station in Puerto Cabezas, in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN), for 9 years.

Get our newsletter “Working with victims of sexual violence needs to be done sensitively. It is my job to protect these young girls and help them escape the cycle of violence.” 

Right to protection

“The local police commission has joined forces with the government, as well as Plan International’s Girl Power Project, to promote girls’ rights across remote communities and ensure the rights of sexual violence victims are met.

“Pregnant girls as young as 12 or 13 come to the police station. Unfortunately many of the perpetrators are family members and neighbours. In some communities. the situation is exacerbated by drug and alcohol use. 

“RACCN is one of the biggest territories in Nicaragua. There are 185 communities and 15 colonies. We respond to cases in 4 areas. Communities are dispersed and it can take hours to get from one place to another.

Plan International’s Girl Power Project has helped us to reach more communities

“Violence has always been present here, but the idea of reporting a crime was unheard of. In these indigenous areas, there are 2 judicial systems: the official one and the customary law, known as the Tala Mana (a traditional rights system based on payment for spilt blood).

“When a crime is committed in the community, villagers report it to the whista (a local judge). According to the Tala Mana, a rape can be paid off by handing over a cow, or the equivalent in Nicaraguan Córdobas. Whistas play an important role as they are locally elected and enable communities to administer their own justice. We are encouraging whistas to stop this practice and use the Tala Mana in smaller cases. 

“I do not support this type of justice. We are working hard to educate whistas and families to not take part in this process.”

Reaching more communities

“It is essential police have a presence in the community. We’re only able to have police posts in the main town, so we are working closely with community leaders, such as the whista, who then educate villagers, so they know how to report violence. Leaders then send the cases on to us to follow up.

“To ensure victims are protected, we’ve also introduced mobile counselling in the local language Miskito.

“We always ensure there is space for victims at the local women’s shelter. Often, they will arrive late at night, so they will need somewhere to stay before a psychologist can come and see them the next day.

“Plan International’s Girl Power Project has helped us to reach more communities. Plan International provides us with fuel so we can travel to remote areas and see what is going on. The work we are doing with Plan International is helping us break the cycle of violence. We are giving victims of sexual violence a voice and helping them to realise their rights.” 

Learn more about Plan International's global work on gender based violence