What are some challenges and barriers female police officers face in their working environment?

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As policing has historically been a male dominated profession, female police officers consistently face numerous barriers in this field. In fact, women make up a relatively small fraction of police forces overall. A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that women account for only twelve percent of the full-time police...

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As policing has historically been a male dominated profession, female police officers consistently face numerous barriers in this field. In fact, women make up a relatively small fraction of police forces overall. A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that women account for only twelve percent of the full-time police force in the United States. Furthermore, only three percent of supervisors and managers are women. Given this huge discrepancy, it is no wonder that they face significant barriers. Female officers also note that there is often a pay discrepancy between them and their male counterparts. This may be because they are less likely to pursue assignments with extra pay incentives, such as night shifts or overtime duties.

Many female officers struggle to be taken seriously in what is often seen as a "boys' club." They often feel that they are passed over for choice assignments and promotions in favor of less qualified male officers. Having so few fellow female colleagues also leads to feelings of isolation in the workplace. Sexual harassment is also a serious problem in many police departments. There are numerous reports in which female officers have found that their complaints of workplace harassment have actually backfired and resulted in unofficial and official punitive responses for themselves. As a result, many instances of harassment likely go unreported.

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The main challenges that confront female law enforcement officers are those rooted in prejudices regarding distinctions between genders.  There is no question that the average female police officer is physically weaker and far more diminutive in stature than her male counterpart, which certainly can present a challenge when physically subduing male suspects.  This can pose a serious threat to female officers when confronting male suspects, especially much larger and stronger suspects who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the officer’s back-up has not yet arrived on the scene.  On the whole, however, female police officers have comported themselves admirably on the streets and are credited with employing more effective tactics that have precluded the need for physical altercations.  Women police officers have a tendency to be more effective in the area of oral and physical communications that compensates for their disadvantage in the area of physical strength.

The main challenges for female police offices, then, are in the prejudices existing among their male colleagues and superiors.  Women have struggled for hundreds of years to be treated equally to men, and that struggle continues to this day in many professions, including law enforcement.  Even after displaying demonstrations of competency on par with male police officers, women are still subjected to the kinds of harassment and degrading behavior that survives every effort at eliminating the beliefs underlying such behavior.  Women are assumed to be less capable, and only recently have seen their female colleagues promoted in strict accordance with merit rather than culture – and there are few professions more steeped in male-dominated cultures than law enforcement. 

Another, more complicated challenge confronting female police officers is in the area of undercover operations.  Women police officers are a major asset when infiltrating criminal organizations or when conducting surveillance of criminal suspects.  They often blend-in to their environment better than male officers and the use of fake husband-and-wife teams is a definite advantage in many social or public settings.  The problem develops, however, when lone female undercover officers are confronted with the inevitable sexual advances of male suspects to whom they have grown close in the performance of their duties.  The investigation has to be halted or altered before the female officer is forced to carry out any such activity, potentially raising the suspicion of the suspect.  These challenges, however, are recognized and handled accordingly, and the advantages of female undercover officers greatly exceeds the limited challenge of sexual pressures from criminal suspects.

By far, the greatest challenge confronting female police officers is the struggle to be taken seriously by male counterparts and superiors who harbor antiquated notions of gender equality.  Female police officers are far more likely than their male counterparts to be obligated to file a civil suit against their superiors and departments for discrimination, and the tendency among many males to treat females differently -- even when that difference is well-intended, as when being protective of female colleagues – the distinctions make it harder for women to succeed in this particular workplace.

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