Domestic violence is a pervasive issue in the U.S. More than 10 million Americans are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. A 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey reported that it accounts for more than 20% of all violent crimes, and is committed against women more than 75% of the time.
Although the statistics may be jarring, there is evidence of progress. The rate of domestic violence has declined 63% between 1994 to 2012, according to the report.
By 2015, 9 out of 10 local police departments nationwide had developed a full-time domestic violence unit, according to a 2017 report by the BJS. Other domestic violence response organizations, including shelters, 24-hour hotlines and mental health programs, have been created and expanded to offer the support needed for women to leave and report an abuser.
Progress still needs to be made, however; the BJS report stated that only 56% of nonfatal domestic violence victimizations, including sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, are reported to police.
How to Decrease Domestic Violence? Increase Hiring of Female Officers
One way to help reduce crimes against women is to hire more female officers, according to Deborah Friedl, Vice President of the International Association of Women Police Officers, as reported in a 2016 article in The Atlantic.
According to the article, “Why Aren’t U.S. Police Departments Recruiting More Women?,” Friedl and other female leaders in the industry have been advocating for years to increase female recruitment because the research shows that the best way to reduce rates of violence against women is to hire more women officers. In fact, female officers are less authoritarian, less reliant on physical force and more effective at communicating and defusing violent confrontations, writes Katherine Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and overseer of the National Center for Women & Policing, in a 2015 article in the Washington Post.
“Women officers often possess better communication skills than their male counterparts and are better able to facilitate the cooperation and trust required to implementing a community policing model,” according to a 2003 report Hiring & Retaining More Women led by the National Center for Women & Policing.
Women officers have also been shown to be more effective specifically in domestic violence scenarios. Results from a 2016 report, which used crime-victimization data to examine U.S. policing between the late 1970s and early 1990s, suggest women may be more comfortable reporting domestic violence to female officers.
According to the report, published by the University of Virginia and University of Zurich, areas with higher female representation experienced higher rates of reporting domestic violence. Authors claim more reporting helped reduced rates of repeated domestic violence and contributed to a decline of nonfatal domestic abuse and intimate partner homicide.
In addition to women feeling more comfortable in reporting domestic violence to female officers, studies show that female officers may take reports of domestic violence more seriously. A 2017 study titled “The Victims’ View: Domestic Violence and Police Response” found that women officers were less likely than male officers to ignore victims who made repeated calls to the police over time. Male officers were not as likely as female officers to write a police report when responding to a repeat domestic violence call, according to a 2003 report from the U.K.’s National Centre for Women in Policing.
In 2013, United Nations former Police Advisor Ann-Marie Orler said in her closing statement:
“In the context of peacekeeping we do have a lot of sexual and gender-based violence, and it’s usually women and children who are the victims, and the perpetrators are very often a man in uniform. So asking these women to trust another man in uniform is a little bit difficult. So female police officers have a possibility to reach out into villages to understand and learn more about what they have gone through, and to tell their stories, etc.”
Educating Entire Departments
While women law enforcement officers are potentially more effective in dealing with domestic violence disputes, they still represent a minority in the force. As of 2013, 1 in 8 local police officers were women, and this number isn’t growing. According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, local police departments surveyed experienced a 35% increase in full-time employees between 1987 and 2013. During that same time, female officers increased only 4%.
So while recruiting more female officers may help improve domestic violence, a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences suggest that hiring more female officers is not enough to decrease domestic violence rates.
Authors claim that to improve police response to intimate partner violence, existing policies should focus on the “elimination of the masculine police culture, including, but not limited to expansion of mandatory arrest, sensitivity training to the effects of police response on IPV victims, and improved techniques of recruiting men officers.”
The study, which examined how police officer gender affects rates of arrest, officers’ beliefs and stereotypes, and response to intimate partner violence, cited that officers with “problematic views” including “victim blaming, patriarchal attitudes toward women, and presumption of victim non-cooperation” often expressed frustration with intimate partner calls. Authors claim officers who endorsed community policing, rather than traditional policing ideals, “approached IPV situations with a sense of collaboration and caring.”
Increased training regarding how victims are affected by police response could help all officers increase empathy and eliminate negative stereotypes about domestic violence victims, authors note.
Regardless of gender, all police offers should follow best practices for domestic violenes cases. Fellsmere (Florida) Chief of Police Keith Touchberry, an adjunct professor in Florida Tech’s online BA in Criminal Justice program, said,
“…officers must be fair, impartial, and consistent in the manner in which they gather probable cause for arrest. Safety must always take precedence in these cases, however, and a minimum of two officers should respond whenever possible and investigate using the ‘contact and cover’ method meaning, one officer has contact with the domestic party and conducts the investigation while the other officer provides protection for the contact officer and the scene.”