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What Are Special Concerns for Women in Law Enforcement?

By Jodee Redmond
Updated May 16, 2024
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Women in law enforcement careers face unique challenges which their male counterparts do not have to contend with on the job. They are more likely to come across gender bias which makes it more challenging for them to advance through the ranks. Sexual harassment is another issue which female police officers contend with on the job, and the strong bonds that officers share with each other can foster an environment where this behavior is not reported to superiors.

Women have been working in law enforcement for many years. Before the Women's Movement of the 1970s, most police-related employment for females involved clerical or dispatch work. Female police officers are still in the minority, but they are no longer confined to job roles where they are mainly performing guard duty or working in "softer" units, such as vice. Women in law enforcement take on roles where they are on patrol and interacting with the public regularly.

The atmosphere of policing has changed to a community-based model has become more common Soft skills, like clear communication and compassion, are increasingly important while on the job, and this is an area where women may have the advantage over their male counterparts. Women in law enforcement are also less likely to have complaints registered against them for excessive force violations, which should make them good candidates for a variety of roles in this career option.

While all recruits are given the same basic training on acceptance to a police force, female police officers may face a different atmosphere in the workplace when they are assigned to a unit. Senior male officers may resent the presence of women in law enforcement, since it is a traditionally male-dominated career and make their displeasure known. Policewomen often learn to ignore or downplay inappropriate remarks and jokes made to or in front of them because they know they need to be able to rely on fellow officers and don't want to appear to be troublemakers.

Sexual harassment is another issue faced by many women in law enforcement. The work is challenging and dangerous, and police officers display a high degree of loyalty to the members of their professional families. Even with training on how to avoid this type of toxic work environment, some officers continue to display inappropriate behavior on the job. Other officers who are aware of the harassment are reluctant to say anything, since they are working in a professional environment which encourages officers to display loyalty to the group by remaining silent.

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Discussion Comments

By croydon — On Mar 24, 2014

@KoiwiGal - I actually think in most places the police are better than the military in terms of how they treat their female officers. They might still be a minority, but they are much more visible than they used to be and I suspect in a lot of cases any harassment they face is not so much because of police culture as it is because of the wider culture.

By KoiwiGal — On Mar 24, 2014

@bythewell - Police work always used to be traditionally male centered and I think there are just some people who think it should stay that way. The problem is that this kind of job ends up with a culture based around being a man, and being strong and silent and not being disloyal to your fellow officers.

So when women join up and are mistreated because of their gender, they can either complain, and "prove" that they don't fit the traditional mold and shouldn't be allowed into the boys' club, or they can stay silent and nothing ever changes.

It's the same problem with the military right now. And the thing is, that kind of environment is toxic for both men and women and even if there wasn't rampant sexism it would be better for everyone if it was changed. Abuse shouldn't be covered up and ignoring it isn't being loyal.

By bythewell — On Mar 23, 2014

It really sucks that there is still such a huge problem for women working in law enforcement. It's so vital to have them there, because there are always going to be women who need help and would respond better to another woman.

It's also just important to have representation of course. I don't understand why women working in law enforcement should be treated any differently from women working in an office alongside men. We are all just people.

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