Scenario #18: Top Cop

Scenarios 14-26 in Getting Ready: Your Journal to Help you Deal with and Heal from Sexual Harassment ask us to think about how we might respond to sexual harassment if we were in different line of work. Scenario #18 focuses on a law enforcement situation in which our colleagues in a mostly male police force line the women’s locker room with centerfolds.

Here are some of the comments, questions and insights that this month’s discussion topic raised…

How likely is this scenario?

Kimberly A. Lonsway, Rebecca Paynich and Jennifer N. Hall (2013, p. 179) share that 21% of 679 male and female sworn personnel within a single large law enforcement agency surveyed for one study reported that someone in their workplace “[Showed, used, or handed] out dirty pictures or stories (e.g., pornography)” at least once in the last year.

So…it happens.

What are some of the other scenarios that might happen in law enforcement?

A similar study by the same authors surveyed 531 female police officers nationwide about their experiences throughout their career. 93.8% of them experienced at least one behavior over the course of their career. 74% of them experienced Unwanted Sexual Attention in one or more of the following categories (Lonsway et al., 2013, pp.185-186):

  • Make sexually suggestive remarks to or about you? (71.5%)
  • Try to have a romantic or sexual relationship with you even though you tried to let the person know you didn’t want to? (34.5%)
  • Touch you in a way that made you uncomfortable? (21.7%)
  • Make forceful attempts to have sex with you? (3.3%)
  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment (15.2%)
  • Hint that you might get some reward for doing something sexual? (10.2)
  • Hint at a job benefit of some kind if you were sexual with him or her? (7.1%)
  • Make you do something social in order to be better treated on the job? (5.7%)
  • Make you afraid that you would be treated poorly if you didn’t do something sexual? (3.4%)
  • Treat you badly for refusing to have sex? (3.1%)

91.3% of them experienced Gender Harassment in one or more of the following categories:

  • Tell inappropriate dirty stories or jokes (85.6%)
  • Show, use, or hand out dirty pictures or stories (e.g., pornography)? (33.3%)
  • Say things to put women down (e.g., saying that women don’t make good supervisors)? (58.3%)
  • Insult you by calling you a homosexual (e.g., “dyke,” “fag,” “queer”)? (10.7%)
  • Sexually harass you? (27.2%)

Do they report it? Is there retaliation?

Our researchers found that “almost half (47.8%) of those [from the first study] who had filed a formal complaint for [sexual harassment, sex discrimination other than sexual harassment, race discrimination, or some behavior other than race or sex discrimination] stated that they had experienced retaliation as a result” (Lonsway et al., 2013, p.188).

Here are some of the reasons the study participants DID NOT report their harassment (Lonsway et al., 2013, pp.188-190):

  • “situation was not serious enough to warrant a formal complaint,”
  • “concern about the impact of reporting on my career,”
  • “nothing would be done if a complaint were filed,”
  • “fear of retaliation by supervisors and/or coworkers,”
  • “concern regarding the reaction of supervisors and/or coworkers,”
  • “similar situations have been reported and no action was taken,”
  • “just part of the job—deal with it,”
  • “some things aren’t believed.”

What did they do when they were harassed?

When sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, shows up, how we react depends totally on our own state of being as well as the circumstances. The spectrum of responses to the sexual mis-behaviors listed above by the law enforcement personnel who participated in the study varied widely (Lonsway et al., 2013, pp.190-198).

  • Walk away from the situation
  • Avoid the person or people involved
  • Downplay the severity of the harassment
  • Laugh it off
  • Accept it
  • Enjoy the attention
  • Participate in such behavior
  • Talk to the person
  • Enlist the help of peers
  • Refuse to participate in the behavior
  • Use more dramatic and/or physical actions for the more severe approaches
  • File a lawsuit
  • File a complaint
  • Quit
  • Move to another agency
  • Leave the field of law enforcement entirely

What else is there to do?

  1. Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev suggest the law enforcement community should promote more women into core jobs
  2. Kathleen Spillar suggests that law enforcement agencies recruit for the entire spectrum of law enforcement positions
  3. Celebrate the female trailblazers and Top Cops

What do you think could or should be done? 


Getting Ready: A Journal to Help You Deal with and Heal from Sexual Harassment, by Sara Jones, was published in 2018 for victims, witnesses, harassers and HR/Supervisor types to reflect on ways that they can hurt or help themselves and others when faced with a sexual harassment scenario. The goal of the journal is to help us prepare for those awkward moments so that we can all successfully navigate through them and get back to doing the work we were hired to do. Read more about this topic and find other resources to end sexual harassment in the workplace at To hire Sara to come speak to your students, your college, your workplace or your support group, connect with her on LinkedIn.


Dobbin, F. & Kalev, A. (2017, November 15). Training programs and reporting systems won’t end sexual harassment. promoting more women will. Harvard business review. Retrieved from

Lonsway, K. A., Paynich, R., & Hall, J. N. (2013). Sexual harassment in law enforcement: incidence, impact, and perception. Police quarterly, 16(2), pp. 177–210. doi:10.1177/1098611113475630.

Munayer, M. (2019, July 17). Police Hiring in the #MeToo Era. Police chief online. Retrieved from

PoliceOne. (2018, March 8). Police History: 5 trailblazing women in law enforcement. PoliceOne. Retrieved from

Spillar, K. (2015, July 2). How more female police officers would help stop police brutality. Washington post. Retrieved from

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