Vulnerable Groups

Efforts to implement Community Oriented Policing should include special consideration of the most vulnerable groups in society. The composition and visibility of such groups may vary depending upon historical, political and social context, and it is not uncommon that minorities suffer discrimination and lack of recognition of basic rights. Additionally, they report more frequent experiences of harassment, hate crimes, and difficulties accessing social services. Yet, these experiences of violence may remain ‘invisible’ in peoples’ general conceptions of crime and violence. This Digital Story gives the example of the invisibility of transwomen in El Salvador. Their vulnerability is rendered invisible as the killings of members of the LGBTI community are not counted in statistics.


A mapping of vulnerable groups should consider the following:

First, the existence of potential invisible groups in society. As we see in the example from El Salvador through the criminalization of the LGBTI community.

Second, the mapping should consider what makes each group vulnerable – the sources of insecurity and vulnerability. What are the actors and situations that bring about this vulnerability?

For certain groups in society, the police may constitute a source insecurity rather than a service of protection. 

In the case of El Salvador, we saw that this is so for members of the LGBTI community. Youth, women, and other minorities are also particularly vulnerable.

    • Youth are frequently regarded (and treated) as potential perpetrators of crimes. This increases their vulnerability to police brutality. Read more here.
    • Research shows that victims of gender-based violence who try to report the case or seek protection after an attack often experience additional verbal and sexual abuse (including rape) from police officers. Read more here.
    • The police may also be politicized and used by a political elite to repress/discriminate against certain groups in societies. This may include individuals from the political? opposition, as well as ethic, religious, sexual minorities.


Third, the mapping must reflect an awareness of the interconnected nature of different social categorizations and vulnerabilities. For example, our research from Kenya has shown that young men in Muslim-majority areas often are accused of having association with terrorist groups. They are therefore more at risk to extrajudicial killings, unlawful detention and arrests. Similarly, young females are particularly vulnerable in conflict and post-conflict settings. The phenomenon of belonging to multiple minorities or vulnerable groups is known as “intersectionality”.

Identifying vulnerable groups is often difficult, as they are already marginalized in society and their situation may not be well understood by the local police, or even recognized by community leaders.  One strategy to overcome this is to seek out other government departments or Civil Society Organizations working with vulnerable groups to get information and advice while simultaneously building trust.