Female Officers Surviving Police-Perpetrated Domestic Violence

©2007 Diane Wetendorf, All Rights Reserved.
Professional expectations and values influence an officer's behavior and decisions regarding her abusive relationship. The police culture contributes to the isolation of female officers and conditions them to tolerate disrespect, negative attitudes, and potentially, domestic abuse.

Topics addressed in this article:

Because so few female officers seek formal assistance, most advocates and professionals, including police supervisors, have little exposure to the problem and few resources to draw from. Current domestic violence statistics estimate 30% of women in the general population will experience domestic violence; research on police families reports the incidence to be as high as 40%. This means that at current staffing levels 27,000 to 36,000 female officers may be domestic violence victims.

What makes victims in the police profession particularly vulnerable is that they must rely on the integrity of their own colleagues and supervisors to provide the intervention and protection of the law. The informal (peer) culture does not fully welcome female officers. Survival in a hostile work environment of both overt and subtle sexual harassment and discrimination requires female officers to develop coping techniques and strategies. They say they have to repeatedly prove themselves and are monitored more closely than are male officers. Male officers tend to exaggerate mistakes a woman recruit makes and use them as proof that all females are incompetent. Male officers trust that male officers will maintain the solidarity of the brotherhood, but do not trust women to do the same. One way the men seek to maintain control of the workplace is by trivializing the females and sexualizing the environment through their language, behavior, and attitudes. A woman learns to overlook, minimize, deny and joke about what is actually offensive and demoralizing. The workplace dynamics that require her to tolerate men's abusive behavior make a female officer especially vulnerable to verbal, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse in her intimate relationship.

The female officer is under intense pressure to conceal any trouble in her personal life, especially domestic violence. There is a strong cultural stigma against an officer being a victim. It may be rare that advocates receive a request for assistance from a female officer. When they do, however, they should see this as an indication that the abuse has escalated to an extremely volatile point, as many police officers would approach an advocate only as a last resort.

It may be necessary to make exceptions to the agency's standard procedures in order to accommodate the needs of an officer who is a victim of police-perpetrated domestic violence. Agencies might want to consult legal counsel for information on confidentiality laws in their state and protection of clients' records from subpoenas. When exploring her options, the advocate can encourage the victim to consider what she already knows about her employing department. This might help her predict how the department will respond if she reports the abuse, and help her decide what steps she is willing to take. Anticipating the potential outcomes of her actions can assist her in preparing for those outcomes. How a department responds when an employee or employees are involved in police-perpetrated domestic violence defines the integrity, philosophy and policy of the agency....

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