A hidden problem

A hidden problem?

New study suggests sexual misconduct by police

By Jill Pease

A new UF survey suggests that police misconduct against female drug offenders may be more prevalent than previously thought.

The survey of more than 300 St. Louis-area women who were charged with substance abuse violations found that 25 percent of these women reported experiencing police sexual misconduct in the form of trading sex for favors.

The study is believed to be the first to assess sex trading between police officers and female offenders from the women’s perspective. The findings appear online in the American Journal of Public Health.

“It’s important that the police force acknowledges that sexual misconduct may exist among the force, so that it can be stopped and eventually prevented,” said lead investigator Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of epidemiology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine.

One-quarter of study participants reported a lifetime history of police sexual misconduct. Of those women, 96 percent said they had sex with an officer on duty, and 24 percent reported having sex with an officer while the officer’s partner or another officer was present.

The researchers stress that police sexual misconduct is likely perpetrated by a small number of officers and not by a large proportion of officers.

“This study is a call to action for law enforcement, and we need the law enforcement community to understand the vulnerability of women trying to change their high-risk behavior,” Cottler said. “We must have an open dialogue to address this issue.”