Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Police Officer Gender and Attitudes toward Intimate Partner Violence: How Policy Can Eliminate Stereotypes

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Police Officer Gender and Attitudes toward Intimate Partner Violence: How Policy Can Eliminate Stereotypes

Article excerpt

Introduction

The victimization of women by their intimate partners is common worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence is highest in the African, Eastern Mediterranean, and South-East Asia regions and second-highest in the Regions of America (including North and South America), where approximately 30% of women report lifetime exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) (2013). According to Baer and Goldstein (2006), "Even today, when 'wife beating' has become 'domestic violence' and often gets wide publicity, law enforcement experts believe that 'wife abuse is the most unreported crime in the United States,' (p.570). IPV remains a serious problem in the U.S. and abroad despite increasing public awareness and law enforcement response. In terms of police response to IPV (e.g., arresting abusers and informing victims of the services available to them), past research has focused primarily on how characteristics of the victims, such as age, race, socioeconomic status (SES), and location, affect arrest rates of the abuser, or how police officers' policing philosophy, location, and attitudes regarding women and their own roles in relationships affect officer response. Few studies have focused specifically on how officer gender can affect police response to IPV (Novak et al., 2011; Stalans & Finn, 2000).

IPV should be a primary concern for police departments around the world. It is a pervasive problem that is propagated by beliefs in traditional gender roles and negative stereotypes about women. These beliefs and stereotypes are especially concerning when they are held by men officers, as some research has suggested that a masculine police culture endures in law enforcement (Dick & Jankowicz, 2001; Rabe-Hemp, 2008), and this environment may reinforce officers' existing traditional gender views. Due to a lack of research on the subject, it is unclear if police officer gender has a significant effect on rates of arresting abusers in IPV cases. However, it does affect their beliefs, stereotypes and reaction to IPV. The masculine police culture affects the stereotypes men officers hold of women officers and of women in general. These gender differences are rooted in widely held beliefs in traditional gender roles (especially masculine gender roles) and a traditional policing ideology inherent in the U.S. police culture. Even as new laws are passed in response to IPV (e.g., the Institute of Justice [2008] reports that twenty-three U.S. states now have some form of a state-wide mandatory arrest policy, six states have preferred arrest provisions, and twenty-two states have discretionary arrest provisions), it is increasingly apparent that prevailing cultural beliefs and individual attitudes of law enforcement officers have directly affected the way that victims and batterers have been regarded and treated over the years.

This article will examine the existing literature on gender differences in police response to IPV and suggest policy changes that can address the issues identified in the research. We review studies from North America; we are aware that different nations and cultures have varying degrees of gender inequality, so we examined only research conducted in the United States and Canada to consider which policies are working or what changes to police policy have been suggested. When reviewing these articles, we focus on findings concerning whether officer gender affects arrest rates of abusers, the criteria an officer considers when making the decision to arrest an abuser, and whether officer gender corresponds with a specific preference for the gender of officers sent to respond to IPV incidents. Based on the findings of this review, we argue that the expansion of (and adherence to) mandatory arrest policies, increased use of crisis intervention teams, improved recruiting and integration of women police officers, sensitivity training to the effects of police response on victims of IPV, and improved recruiting techniques of men officers are strategies with proven empirical or theoretical strength that can be implemented to eliminate the police culture's encouragement of traditional gender role beliefs and ideologies that tolerate IPV. …

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