Can Sexual Harassment Affect an Officer's Safety?

by Ted Belling


 Sexual harassment can occur in any workplace, and can seriously affect an employee's work performance. Victims of sexual harassment are not limited to just females. Males can also be victimized. The scope of this report, however, will focus on sexual harassment against female police officers. Can the effects of sexual harassment create officer safety concerns? What does a supervisor need to look for, and what can the supervisor do?


  Sexual harassment can occur in any place of employment. When a victim suffers through this type of abuse, it can have a serious psychological and physiological effect on the victim. There can also be external factors that can affect the victim, as well. All of these external and internal influences on the victims in most work places usually do not become life threatening. These influences, however, could have very serious and even life threatening consequences on victims that are police officers.


  Jennifer L. Hallgren was a police officer with the Largo Police Department. She worked with the department for six months when she quit her position. During her employment, she received demeaning treatment because she was a female. She was subjected to repeated statements from supervisors such as, "females are weak," and "women 'can't do the job because we're caregivers'". Hallgren further claimed that a supervisor told her, "don't expect backup.we want to see if you can do it." Hallgren said this blatant and belittling behavior from the supervisors occurred in front of a fellow male recruit. The male recruit was influenced by what he saw, and also participated in the sexual harassment. The supervisors' behaviors were creating another generation of harassers in the police department. Hallgren took her complaints to a female lieutenant with the department. The lieutenant basically told her she could consider being a dispatcher if she could not take the treatment. Hallgren sued the city.


  What Officer Hallgren endured is an indication of what other victimized female officers must bear. Victims that repeatedly hear statements that make them feel inferior to male officers can have their confidence shaken. Officers must have confidence and control when dealing with all kinds of flowing and rapidly changing situations. A lack of confidence in one's ability as a female and officer, could lead to indecision and/or inaction when facing great peril. The ultimate result could be a seriously injured or dead officer. This is only one part of the problem for victims like Hallgren. Hallgren also faced the stated possibility that help will not come if she needs it. The ultimate sin of any officer is to fail to back a fellow officer. For a supervisor to allegedly say this to her is reprehensible. [1]

  Police officers have so much that they have to worry about and deal with. No officer should have to struggle with the burden of sexual harassment, too. Officers must look out for each other, and work with each other, as a team. Not only does this help them be more effective for their community, but it also helps reassure them. Their confidence will be higher, and a safer work atmosphere will occur.


  What if a female officer finds herself in a situation of sexual harassment? She is the only female officer on the midnight shift. All the other officers are close friends. The senior patrol officer on the shift continually demeans her and embarrasses her for perceived limitations for being a female. She tolerates it to get along. She, however, does not feel like part of the team. She is also afraid to turn to one of the other officers on the shift for support because they are friends of the problem officer. She starts exhibiting signs of withdrawing from social interaction. Her self-generated activity drops. She slows her response to potentially violent calls to let other officers arrive first, because she is afraid to be caught at the scene without backup. She frequently calls in sick with stomach problems. In addition, she uses all of her vacation leave as soon as she earns it.


  A harassed officer may not inform her supervisor of the problem. The supervisor, however, should always be watchful of changes in behavior. The supervisor should readily notice the behavior patterns of the female officer previously discussed. There are numerous signs that supervisors should watch for among personnel. When these signs are observed, it is the supervisor's responsibility to find out the root cause. It could be personal problems, medical problems, or in the above case, a work related sexual harassment problem. Once sexual harassment is identified, the supervisor must take immediate action to resolve the problem. The supervisor has to take a "no nonsense" approach to the situation. The victim of the harassment should also be informed that there would be no negative consequences for reporting it. All the parties involved should also be notified that retaliation would not be tolerated. A timely and thorough investigation needs to be carried out to determine the validity and extent of the sexual harassment. Corrective action, if required, needs to be applied.


  Sexual harassment of any employee can never be acceptable. No one should have to tolerate the abuse and hostility. Sexual harassment among police officers can be particularly bad because of the grave consequences that could occur. It is the supervisor's responsibility to watch for signs of mistreatment of officers, and take immediate action to stop it. Supervisors also need to create an atmosphere where officers can come to them with their problems as soon as they occur. This helps minimize the harm done to the victim officer, and may just save the officer's life.

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