Cultural Conditioning

Department Dynamics

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 that you develop coping techniques and strategies. You learn to overlook, minimize, deny and joke about what is actually offensive and demoralizing to you.

Conditioned Vulnerability

The workplace dynamics that require you 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 [personal account], your abuser demands unquestioning obedience and submission to his authority. He is likely to remind you that though you may wield the power and authority of a police officer on the job, you have no such status in your relationship.

This vulnerability may contradict your self-image and undermine your self-confidence, both as a woman and a police officer.

Cultural Stigma

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.

Because of the strong cultural stigma against an officer being a victim [personal account], you may feel intense pressure to conceal any trouble in your personal life. 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.

Denial and Silence

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. Any decision you make regarding your intimate relationship can also seriously affect both your career and that of your abuser.

Lesbian officers face a myriad of problems. 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.

Whether or not you are in a traditional relationship, there's a wall of denial and silence around officer-involved domestics. 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.

Additional Resources

Back to top


Survival in a male-dominated work environment requires gender-specific strategy and support.


Hijacked by the Right   Crossing the Threshold   Police Victim Handbook

The Handbook now available as e-book through SMASHWORDS!

Contact Us
Site Map »