Domestic violence is the most common reason people in the U.S. call the police, comprising 15 to 50 percent of 911 calls—but in a new piece for Ozy, journalist Cari Shane posits that “it should be more.”
In her piece, Shane talks to experts about the ways in which broader gender gaps in policing contribute to the mishandling of domestic violence cases by law enforcement, and the persistent distrust women have in police intervention as a solution to such abuse.
One of the experts she consulted was Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar, who also oversees the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing as FMF’s Executive Director.
Despite the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which put federal muscle behind getting police departments to change the way they respond to intimate partner crime calls, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, just one-quarter of physical assaults, one-fifth of rapes and half of the stalkings perpetrated against women by their partners are even reported. But there might be a straightforward way to change that.
The international study, which surveyed U.S. police force numbers between the late 1970s and early ’90s, found that a 7 percent increase in female officers saw a nearly 14 percent increase in domestic violence reporting. Furthermore, for every percentage point increase in female officers, women’s reporting of crimes, in general, went up by a percentage point. “It shows you the effectiveness of women police officers intervening in this cycle of violence,” says Katherine Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which studies the issue through its research arm, the National Center for Women and Policing.
Studies show female police officers are “proven to be more responsive and to take more seriously these [domestic violence] reports as they come in,” says Spillar. Yet, statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show that women make up only 12 percent of local police forces, an increase of just 4 percentage points over 26 years. State police numbers are even lower, at 6 percent.