Because of the insular nature of the police culture, its masculine-identified values, and the power that the institution of policing wields, female officers have little or no protection from abusive intimate partners. Many female officers leave law enforcement due to abuse by an intimate partner — who is often another officer.
Professional & personal impact
If you are a police officer being abused by another police officer, you may be struggling with mixed feelings. You may find yourself making job-related excuses for the abuser that you would not make for a person in any other profession. You might be torn between wanting to protect the abuser's career and protecting your own career. Or you may be angry at the abuser and want to see him/her off the job, but fear that they will retaliate if fired or suspended.
If you are like many female officers, you face an ongoing struggle for acceptance and respect in the male-dominated profession of policing. You may be the only female officer in your department, with other women only in ancillary positions, and none at command level. Working in an environment where you must tolerate men's abusive behavior can numb you 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. You never expected to be in such a vulnerable position.
The police culture compels officers to conceal their emotions and any trouble in their personal lives. Like male officers, female officers can face discrimination and loss of career if they seek help or counseling, so you probably feel very alone as you deal with the impact of abuse. You probably feel embarrassed professionally — something like this wasn't supposed to happen to you. Your vulnerability contradicts your self-image and undermines your self-confidence both as a woman and a police officer. It also places you at greater risk.
There's a wall of denial and silence around officer-perpetrated domestics. Any decision you make regarding your intimate relationship can seriously affect both your career and that of your abuser. 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. You may worry that others will question whether you can protect others when you can't protect yourself. You may question your judgment for allowing yourself to be in such a position. You may feel ashamed and embarrassed because you believe you should know how to handle your personal problems without outside intervention. You may worry fellow officers will take matters into their own hands and go after him. You may fear they will see you as the traitor if you report the abuse.
You probably have many personal and professional reasons not to tell anyone about your abuse, in addition to all the same reasons that civilian women have for not leaving an abusive relationship. You may love your partner and be committed to doing everything possible to save your relationship. You may still hope that they 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 other male-centric careers, but 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 and your co-workers will react in many ways when they learn you are a victim of abuse. How a department responds when an employee is involved in police-perpetrated domestic violence reveals the integrity, standards, and policy of the agency. Unfortunately, any success at hiding the effects of your abuse may later work against you when supervisors and colleagues say they saw no signs of your abuse and the abuser denies your allegations.
People may doubt that a civilian abuser can dominate, coerce, or batter a police officer. He may use your professional status to convince advocates, responding officers, or a prosecutor that you are really the abuser. He might physically threaten you, and then accuse you of aggression when you respond with professional self-defense. He knows that accusations of use of force can threaten your job. He knows that he can potentially destroy your career if he can get a protection order. If your abuser is a civilian, fellow officers are apt to support you and do everything they can to protect you.
But if your abuser is in law enforcement, the fire service, or the military, it's a different story. Some fellow officers will resent your bringing your personal problems to the job. Many will refuse to take sides because they work with both of you. Some will believe the abuser's story over yours; others will be angry with you for betraying one of your own by reporting the abuse. They may call you a jealous bitch who is just out to make trouble. They may treat you as the abuser if you fought back in self-defense. They may underestimate the lethality of your situation. There are additional complications when both the victim and batterer are in law enforcement: both of your careers can be damaged if you proceed with a complaint. Your abuser is likely to apply relentless pressure and threats to make you recant and withdraw your complaint. Most significant, lethality risks multiply because you both have been trained to use weapons and tactics that can be used to attack another and defend oneself.
You face another layer of barriers to seeking help if you are in a same-sex or nontraditional relationship. Responding officers and others may label the situation as "mutual combat," assuming you have equal power in the relationship as females and perhaps as trained police officers. Most communities have few or no resources for lesbian victims of battering. Where they exist, your abuser may contact the advocacy organization and convince staff that they are the victim. If you are still in a heterosexual marriage, your abusive partner may threaten to reveal your activities to your husband. Exposing your sexual preference may impact any pending divorce or custody action. If you have not disclosed your sexual orientation, supervisors, fellow officers, family, and friends may feel betrayed because you have not revealed yourself to them.
You probably feel a great deal of pressure to hide what is happening in your personal life. The far-reaching effects of abuse often wreak havoc with your professional performance. For example, you may take excessive leave time or frequently be late for work; you may be forced to make excuses for damage to your uniform or equipment; you may have to hide your physical injuries. You likely have little hope that you can escape the situation on your own, yet you know that telling anyone about the abuse means repercussions on the job.
A female officer is in a significantly different, more dangerous, and more vulnerable situation.
You probably try to avoid calling 911 as you know officers avoid situations where they may have to arrest a colleague and loathe responding to a domestic at an officer's home. Depending on the incident, responding officers may be conflicted about whom to believe. They may find it difficult to determine the predominant aggressor, especially when both parties are police officers.
Going to a local domestic violence shelter may not be a viable option because your abuser may know the location of local shelters. If you want counseling or shelter, it may be safer to seek help in another community where you can maintain anonymity. There are many barriers to using services in your home community:
- You may be professionally embarrassed to be personally vulnerable.
- You fear that people will lose confidence in your professional ability to protect them.
- You remain protective of the abuser and the department's reputation.
- You fear that zealous advocates will pressure you to make a complaint.
- You fear that the relationship between the department and the DV agency will bias advocates.
- You may not trust that your identity will be kept confidential.
- The abuser, if also an officer, may know the shelter location and even the advocates.
- You do not want to put staff or other victims at risk.
If you go to the department for help, you may be shunned by colleagues for breaking the code of silence by informing on another officer. Your report may be treated as "she said/he said," your word against his. As a female officer you are already the 'other' and unlikely to have the same credibility as a male officer. There are additional negative consequences you face if you report your abuse to the department:
- You may have violated policy by failing to report previous abusive incidents.
- You might fear that supervisors and fellow officers will doubt your ability to perform your duties.
- Some officers may condone the abuser's behavior and interfere with the investigation or intimidate and harass you.
- You may not be able to count on other officers to provide back-up.
Domestic violence policies vary in their consideration of officers who are victims. Policies often have negative consequences, especially those that mandate a victim to report her abuse, mandate any officer to report knowledge of an abusive relationship, or mandate the petitioner of a protective order to report the action. You may be ordered to cooperate with an internal investigation that is likely to be more focused on shielding the department from liability than supporting you and holding the abuser accountable. Unlike civilian victims, you must cooperate with the investigators; refusal could be grounds for discipline or dismissal. If you tell the investigator everything, you risk disciplinary action for both yourself and the abuser. If you withhold information that investigators later discover, you may face discipline or termination.
The department is likely to order a fitness-for-duty evaluation or order you to attend counseling, either of which becomes part of your permanent file. Supervisors may place you on administrative or medical leave. The department may order you into counseling if/when it learns of your abuse. If possible, request to receive counseling at the local domestic violence agency rather than through Employee Assistance Program or your department chaplain. An experienced domestic violence advocate will keep your safety as the focus while you together explore options. In addition, your confidentiality may be better protected unless the DV agency is in partnership with your department through a co-located service agreement. Be aware, though, that most counselors and advocates are unfamiliar with the police culture; you may have to educate them on the police culture and your department's policies.
A civil protective order can be an effective method of warning an abusive officer to restrain from further violence. If you are considering this option, you need to know whether your department's policy mandates you to inform the department of the order. Such a requirement may deter you from obtaining an order because you may not want to notify the department. Another option is an administrative protective order which can be issued by the abuser's department. This is a direct order from command level for the abuser to refrain from specific conduct, such as going to your home or contacting you. If the abuser violates it, the department can discipline him for insubordination.
Develop a safety plan that includes a thorough risk and lethality assessment. You might request that your department develop a safety plan for you, both on and off duty. It might include allowing you to take a leave of absence without loss of pay or seniority. If you and your abuser work in the same department, the safety plan should include measures to keep you separated on the job. Every effort must be made to ensure that the safety plan does not punish you with loss of status, loss of pay, or unnecessary inconvenience or hardship. It might include an administrative protection order and/or shift reassignments for you both. The safety plan might include assigning another officer to ride with you and/or the abuser while on duty. Off duty, the department can place you on a drive-by watch — with your permission.
If there was a 911 call and your abuser was arrested, your department may pressure you not to pursue criminal charges, particularly if he is also an officer. Responding officers may be drawn into testifying in a case that affects their own department, colleagues, and friends. You may be reluctant to participate in any prosecution, particularly if you must disclose intimate details of your life in front of your colleagues. The political climate, public awareness and sentiment, and the department's interest will influence the decision to prosecute. Prosecutors are reluctant to pursue charges against any officer, even more so when the case involves officer-perpetrated domestic violence.
As you explore your options and develop your safety plan, consider what you already know about your department and fellow officers to better predict how the department will respond if you must call 911 or decide/are forced to report your abuse. It may help you determine what steps you are willing to take, and prepare you for potential outcomes of your actions.Go to index