News Release

University of Virginia researchers win 2024 Responsible Business Education Award for Police Reform Study in India

"Policing in patriarchy" study by Sandip Sukhtankar and Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner praised for prompting reforms in police responses to cases of gender-based violence against women in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Virginia College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

A police reform study, led by University of Virginia professors Sandip Sukhtankar and Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner – in collaboration with a University of Oxford researcher and law enforcement leaders in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh – recently was honored by the Financial Times with a Responsible Business Education Award in the academic research category. The award recognizes the best academic research with a societal impact that has influenced policy or practice.

Published in the July 7, 2022 issue of Science, the "Policing in Patriarchy" study offers a possible avenue to improving investigative responses to gender-based crimes and to making victims more comfortable reporting them. The two-year study, in partnership with the Madhya Pradesh Police, detailed how the establishment of specialized help desks for women in local police stations led to the increased registration of cases of gender-based violence, especially when those help desks were staffed by female officers. 

The findings from the largest randomized controlled trial of police reform measures to date suggest that deliberate measures designed to make police officers more responsive to women’s security needs, and the presence of female officers in visible positions of authority, can be effective in making the police more accountable to women and in increasing women’s access to the justice system. The study found that police registration of domestic violence and other crimes against women increased significantly in stations with the help desks compared with those without. Those stations with women's help desks (WHDs) registered 14 per cent more “first information reports”, which led to criminal proceedings, as well as a staggering 1,000 percent more domestic incident reports, which can initiate civil proceedings.

“As in many parts of the world, and particularly in India, these types of cases simply go unreported,” said Sukhtankar, an associate professor of economics in UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and co-director of the University’s Democracy Initiative’s Corruption Lab on Ethics, Accountability and the Rule of Law. “And the essential first step is registration of cases. Previous estimates suggest that anywhere from 95 to 99% of cases are not reported, and even fewer are registered.

“The judicial system in India is hugely backlogged and problematic and has a lot of issues, but just the fact that thousands more women are able to even access the justice system because of this intervention is a huge deal,” Sukhtankar continued. “Everybody who works on these topics in India knows sort of how hard it is to move the needle on this.”

Judges for this year's Responsible Business Education Awards praised the research for “tackling a hugely important topic in a very data-driven and scientific way, but with attention to cultural norms and contexts” and for prompting new police training modules on gender. Standard operating procedures for women’s cases are now included in training for recruits and refresher courses for existing staff. In partnership with the MIT Poverty Action Lab, Sukhtankar and his colleagues have helped create a center for action-based research, known as the Parimal Lab, based within the Madhya Pradesh police department. Twenty police officers have since gained certification as gender-based trainers.

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