When Female Officers Are Abused

On the Threshold

As in any organization, a police department has both a formal and informal culture. The formal culture is that of rules and regulations, the informal is group norms (peer pressure) and daily interactions. In many departments, the informal culture has negative attitudes about female officers. Survival in a hostile work environment of both overt and subtle sexual harassment and discrimination requires you to develop coping techniques and strategies. You learn to overlook, minimize, deny, and joke about what is actually offensive and demoralizing to you.

Women stay in policing because they love the work. Many believe that it's the best job they could ever have. They believe that they are changing the culture of policing. They are serving their communities and serving as mentors to younger women. Like their male colleagues, some women leave the profession due to occupational stress, career dissatisfaction or burnout, and physical illness. They also leave due to sexual harassment and discrimination, gender-biased personnel policies, limited assignment opportunities, and the brass ceiling that continues to keep women out of the command structure.

Many female officers also leave law enforcement due to abuse by an intimate partner — who is often another officer.

Conditioned Vulnerability

Workplace dynamics that require a woman to tolerate men's abusive behavior can make you especially vulnerable to verbal, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse in your intimate relationship. The hierarchical structure of the police profession requires obedience and submission to authority. In an abusive relationship, your abuser demands unquestioning obedience and submission to his authority. He is likely to remind you that though you may wield power and authority on the job, you have no such status in your relationship.

As a police officer and survivor of domestic abuse, you also have to deal with the impact of abuse on your professional life. When the abuse occurred, you were probably stunned by your partner's behavior. You may also have felt embarrassed professionally. Something like this wasn't supposed to happen to you.

This vulnerability may contradict your self-image and undermine your self-confidence, both as a woman and a police officer. It may also place you at greater risk.

You are likely to be stunned by your own situation, as you may have believed that you could never be in such a vulnerable position. You may question, and anticipate that others will question, whether you are capable of protecting others when you can't protect yourself. You may question your judgment for allowing yourself to be in such a position, and you suspect that colleagues and supervisors are also wondering. You may feel ashamed and embarrassed because you believe you should know how to handle your personal problems without outside intervention. You may fear that fellow officers will see you as a traitor if you report the abuse.

Denial and Silence

Because of the strong cultural stigma against an officer being a victim, you may feel intense pressure to conceal any trouble in your personal life. You are particularly vulnerable because you must rely on the integrity and discretion of your fellow officers and supervisors to intervene and provide the protection of the law. Whether you are in a traditional relationship or not, there's a wall of denial and silence around officer-involved domestics. Any decision you make regarding your intimate relationship can seriously affect both your career and that of your abuser. 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. Unfortunately, your success at hiding the effects of the abuse may later work against you when supervisors and colleagues say they saw no signs of your suffering and the abuser denies your allegations.

You probably feel very alone. There are many reasons not to tell your family and friends, especially if you still hope that things will work out. You don't want them to know what he's done to you. You may be afraid one of them will take matters into their own hands and go after him or report him. You know that they will pressure you to leave your abuser. You also have all the same reasons other women have for not leaving your abusive relationship. You may love your partner and be committed to doing everything possible to save your relationship. You may still hope that s/he will get help and be able to stop their violent behavior. You may be embarrassed, ashamed, or feel responsible for the abuse. If you have children, you want to do what's best for them. You want to avoid the stigma of divorce. There are financial considerations. If you are in a same-sex relationship, you face a myriad of problems. You may have believed that being in a relationship with a woman would free you from having to deal with control issues, and certainly from violence. Not only must you deal with the issues that confront all females in policing and firefighting, you must also deal with working in a homophobic culture and being a victim of domestic violence. As difficult as it may be, at some point you will have to ask for help. We have the resources, books, and information you need.

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As a victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than other domestic violence victims.

Our books are available through:

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Victim Handbook
Crossing the Threshold
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Hijacked by the Right
Crossing the Threshold
Victim Handbook by Diane Wetendorf