“Police Sexual Violence: A Study of Policewomen as Victims”

AuthorAngela Sands,Laurel Westerman,Jenna Prochnau,Henry Blankenau
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Police Quarterly
2023, Vol. 26(1) 323
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10986111211058032
Police Sexual Violence: A
Study of Policewomen as
Angela Sands
, Laurel Westerman
, Jenna Prochnau
, and
Henry Blankenau
Police sexual violence (PSV) is an understudied but critically important topic in police
research. This paper uncovers and examines an extremely hidden form of PSV: sexual
assaults of female police off‌icers by male police off‌icers. Our qualitative analysis reveals
how male police off‌icers of widely varying ranks and years of experience sexually
assault female police off‌icers. Victims reported that the number of male police off‌icers
who sexually assault female police off‌icers is small; however, victims reported that
these off‌icers are often serial offenders who also assault professional staff and citizens.
Victims identif‌ied available investigative processes and reporting protocols, but they
were afraid to report incidents due to concerns about potential retaliation from
administrators and co-workers, limited career advancement or termination, being
negatively viewed by co-workers, and simply not being believed. Victims believed that
certain hypermasculine aspects of their agency and profession's culture allowed acts of
PSV to happen, go unreported, and re-occur. We make several recommendations for
how police administrators can address and prevent PSV in their agencies.
police sexual violence, culture, hypermasculinity
University of Nebraska-Omaha, Omaha, NE, USA
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, USA
Corresponding Author:
Angela Sands, College of Public Affairs and Community Service, University of Nebraska-Omaha, 218 CPACS,
6001 Dodge Street, Omaha, NE 68182, USA.
Email: aj33sands@gmail.com
Historically, the policing profession and police culture have excluded, reluctantly
incorporated, and marginalized women (Lee-Sammons, 1996;Pogrebin et al., 2000).
There are varying degrees to which individual police departments have inhibited female
participation, but in general, women have traditionally not been able to access the same
positions, social networks, and career trajectories in the policing profession as men.
Moreover, studies have demonstrated how the hypermasculine subculture within law
enforcement can control, isolate, and victimize policewomen, often through sexual
misconduct or abuse (Pogrebin et al., 2000;Shjarback & Todak, 2019;Shelley et al.,
2011). Although we recognize that police culture is not monolithic (Reiner, 1992), we
argue that sexism and misogyny remain dominant features of a hypermasculine
subculture that continues to exclude, oppress, and victimize female police off‌icers in
many police departments (Prokos & Padavic, 2002;Maher, 2010). As evidence, this
paper describes an extreme form of misogyny within the profession heretofore largely
unaddressed in police research: male police off‌icers sexually assaulting female police
Literature Review
Brief History of Women in Policing
The introduction of women into policing is inextricably linked with efforts to reduce
and prevent sexual assaults. In the United States, womens entry into the police force
began in the mid-19th century with the appointment of prison matrons to oversee
detained women and juveniles in several citiesprisons (Higgins, 1951). Their hiring
was generally in response to public demands, rather than department-driven initiatives,
to protect female inmates from sexual abuse by male inmates and male wardens. In New
York City, prison matrons were installed over the objections of the Mens Prison
Association, which argued that female matrons were physically unable to subdue
potentially violent female prisoners (Schulz, 1989). It was not until the early 20th
century that women moved beyond custodial duties and began acting as law en-
forcement off‌icers. Several of the same groups that had advocated for the hiring of
prison matrons later lobbied for the hiring of policewomen (Schulz, 1989). Many early
women in law enforcement had experience as social workers prior to assuming patrol
duties. They were organized into single-sex Womens Bureaus within local police
departments and focused their social service intervention efforts on at-risk women and
juvenile delinquents (Higgins, 1951).
After decades of minimal increases, the number of women in the police force grew
steadily after the 1970s. Since then, their duties have generally been the same as male
off‌icers. In 1970, 2% of all police off‌icers were women compared to 9% of all police
off‌icers in 1991 (Price, 1996). Around 2007, this percentage reached 12% nationwide
and has since plateaued (Reaves, 2015). However, several large urban departments
4Police Quarterly 26(1)

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