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Sandra Gomes Melo

Human Rights Award, 2013

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Focus Areas

Access to Justice
Gender-Based Violence

Sandra Gomes Melo is a human rights attorney and the director of the Civil Police Academy in the Federal District of Brasilia. She challenges outdated thinking and designs creative strategies to enable the criminal justice system to better serve survivors of domestic violence.

“If I have achieved results in my job, maybe it is because for me it’ s very simple,” she says. “First I’m a woman, and women need to give voice to other women.”

Sandra has worked on many areas of law enforcement, always with a focus on women’ s issues: as the Chief of Police in Brasilia, head of the Female Prison, Chief of the Specialized Police Station for Women, and Chief of the Civil Police Academy.

She has achieved great professional distinction, rising steadily through the police and corrections system, at each stage introducing new ideas. As a Police Chief in Brasilia, she created the Women’ s Mobile Police Unit, a roving police station that provides police services to women. She also launched the “Safe Women” project to raise awareness about violence against women and Brazil’ s domestic violence law. In her work as the director of the Civil Police Academy, she has integrated gender-sensitive training into the curriculum taught to every new officer.

In 2006, Brazil passed a landmark domestic violence law, Lei Maria da Penha, named after a survivor of two brutal attacks by her husband. “I decided that in Brasilia, in my police station, this law will be a reality,” she says. “I fought with a lot of people, a lot of judges, prosecutors, some colleagues. But I defended the law,” she says.

Innovation isn’ t easy in law enforcement, and what distinguishes Sandra is her ability to leverage the power of collaboration to turn ideas into practice. Sandra has been engaged with Vital Voices since March 2010, when she became a delegate of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women, an initiative led by the Avon Foundation for Women, the U.S. State Department, and Vital Voices.

Sharing and learning new methods with a peer network of advocates, lawyers, and service providers has strengthened Sandra’ s resolve to address challenges creatively and seek out new solutions to combat violence against women. Her determination even led Sandra to study at the Tokiwa International Victimology Institute in Japan, where she learned valuable lessons on protecting women that she brought back to Brazil.

Her mixture of courage, imagination and persistence is a rare inspiration to those that work to combat violence against women around the world by ensuring laws that protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable are implemented effectively.