Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Somvadee and Morash

Somvadee, C., & Morash, M. (2008). Dynamics of sexual harassment for policewomen working alongside men. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 31(3), 485-498

1.      Main Thesis: Somvadee and Marsh identified that many policewomen report being sexually harassed even if they do not identify it as such; they also found that policewomen were concerned about male colleagues’ beliefs about whether women could “do the job.”

2.      Body of Evidence: Somvadee and Morash asked 121 U.S. policewomen working in county, city, state, and campus offices to fill out the Sexual Experience Questionnaire. A total of 117 women responded, with most of these women being White (71.8%) and a significant percentage (22.2%) being African American. Most women had college degrees, and the mean age of respondents was 35.6 years. Many respondents did patrol and detective work while some worked in jails and as administrators. Most planned a career in police work. The authors found that most women (90.6%) reported at least one SEQ behavior, although only 58.2 percent believed they had been sexually harassed. The policewomen were most bothered by situations in which men thought women less capable of doing the job; for example, women were upset when given less important or low-risk tasks, and one women reported a male colleague suggesting she had been hired because she was a female and an ethnic minority (p. 491). Women also reported significant inappropriate sexual jokes and remarks, but they often described these activities as practices that defined an “in group.” Many respondents believed such activities allowed them to be part of the in group. In connection to this, women mostly reported that their male colleagues would respond positively if confronted about their inappropriate behavior. The authors make several observations about their data, including discussing other studies that support the idea that more developed procedures for handling sexual harassment are empowering for policewomen (p. 493). The authors note that their findings are not generalizable, but that they are consistent with the results of other similar studies. They end by suggesting how police organizations can improve by considering the implications of unrecognized sexual harassment.

3.      Conclusions: Somvadee and Morash conclude that police organizations and researchers should be more aware of how policewomen may be socialized into male-constructed workplaces, as suggested by women’s beliefs that tolerating or participating in sexual joking made them part of the “in group.” The authors also suggest that future research consider whether those atmospheres in which sexual harassment is most prevalent are not reported on because women simply do not work in such places. Finally, Somvadee and Morash argue for increased attention to hearing women’s complaints about sexual harassment when they occur.

4.      My Conclusions: This article reports on a relatively straightforward survey and draws some important conclusions from the data collected. As a women who has participated in behavior designed to make me part of an “in group,” I was fascinated to read about how this social behavior is still considered sexual harassment. I was also concerned about the lack of attention given to the women who refused to participate in the study based on concerns over anonymity. This situation certainly seems to connect to the authors’ findings that reporting of sexual harassment is problematic because it can exacerbate the problem. I would have liked to see more discussion of this implication in connection with the women who opted out.

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