Iraqi team learns O.C. criminal procedures

WESTMINSTER — A burgeoning relationship between a small Christian college in Costa Mesa and a public university in Iraq could help shape the Middle Eastern country's response to gender-based violence in its northern region.

Over the span of 15 days, a small team of Iraqi government officials and academics are touring Orange County and studying the local justice system's procedures for crimes against women.

Wednesday, the group of about half a dozen Iraqis gathered at Westminster's police headquarters.

Det. Sara Nguyen clicked to her first PowerPoint slide and began a lecture, walking the group through her process at the scene of a violent or sexual crime.

"There's things you're going to look for like condoms, biological fluids, that you wouldn't find at another crime scene," she said about her lesson plan. "It's very important when we get a call to know what the call is so we have the right equipment ready."

Sami Hussein, a law-enforcement official who led the trip, translated while others took notes.

"[The Westminster police] have experience in domestic violence, violence against women, human trafficking," Hussein said earlier about the reasons for the trip. "Those kinds of cases are very new in my country."

His group's visit is the culmination of a partnership between Iraq's Dohuk University and Vanguard University's Global Center for Women & Justice in Costa Mesa.

Dohuk is in Kurdistan, Iraq's northern region where the area's government has established agencies specifically to combat gender-based crimes.

"It's a universal problem. It happens in every country. [But] it depends on the culture. In our culture, woman is second degree and man is first degree," he said in sometimes-halting English. "In our government, we try to make equity between the rights of woman and the rights of men, but it's very hard work."

Since 2007, the Kurdistan Region Government began reforming gender-biased laws and established three law-enforcement agencies — known as directorates — to investigate and prevent violence against women.

Hussein and two others who accompanied him on this trip each command a directorate.

"This team is stepping out in front to combat centuries of tradition that have not recognized the harm to women in their community," said Sandra Morgan, who directs the Global Center for Women & Justice.

She met Hussein in 2010 during a teleconference between classes at Dohuk University and Vanguard that she set up to discuss attitudes toward women.

"We've grown to respect each other and become friends," Morgan said.

After an in-person visit from Morgan at Dohuk, Hussein came to Orange County in 2012.

He spent 10 days visiting Vanguard, the Westminster Police Department and the Federal Court in Santa Ana to evaluate what Iraqi task forces could learn.

This month, he returned with academics from Dohuk, leaders of Kurdistan's other directorates and the general director for the Kurdistan Regional Government's Interior Ministry, Tariq Rasheed.

"In Kurdistan Regional Government, we take care of our police officers, and we want to promote their ability and develop their facilities," Rasheed, the group's ranking official, said through Hussein, a translator. "We also see that America and other European countries take care of human cases, domestic violence and violence against women, and we want in Kurdistan Regional Government to take steps like those countries."

Rasheed initiated the weeks-long training session after telling the minister of the interior about Hussein's 2012 trip, he said.

The group of Iraqis hope to learn new techniques to combat a problem they say is universal.

"Many things in Iraq and Kurdistan and here are the same, like a man ashamed to go to the police station to report that his wife beat him, for example," Hussein said. "It's the same in our country. Many women don't report it to the police, the abuse or [being] beaten by their husband — also the same in our country."

Training at Westminster Police Department started April 30 on the most basic level: a definition of what domestic violence is, said Sgt. Cliff Williams.

"There were a lot of questions on our domestic violence investigations, which they're getting off the ground now," Williams said.

Through May 1, the lessons moved on to police ethics and technical aspects of investigating sex crimes and abuse.

Westminster's use of DNA evidence impressed Hussein.

"We have a central DNA laboratory in our country, but we don't have the staff to work in this kind of laboratories," Hussein said.

Through the next week, the group will explore the juvenile justice system in Orange County and learn from child-abuse specialists.

Hussein hopes to bring more groups for training. His charge of enforcing equity between men and women's is a slow process, he said.

"The old generation, it's very hard to change their mind," he said. "But the new generation, we started with them from primary school and secondary school and college. I think we will succeed with them. Maybe after 10 years many things will be changed."

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