BIROn - Birkbeck Institutional Research Online

    “Little Red Sandals”: female police officers' lived experience of investigating sexual violence

    Bogza, A. and McDowall, Almuth and Brown, J. (2021) “Little Red Sandals”: female police officers' lived experience of investigating sexual violence. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 44 (1), pp. 32-48. ISSN 1363-951X.

    PIJPSM-02-2020-0029.R1_Proof_hi-1.pdf - Author's Accepted Manuscript

    Download (378kB) | Preview


    Purpose: Against a background of increasing workload and external criticism, this paper exposes the indelible memories impressed on female police officers dedicated to investigating allegations of rape and sexual violence. Design: Participants (N=15) were female police officers working in a specialist sexual offences investigation unit in a large English Metropolitan Police Force. A semi-structured interview was employed to elicit their experiences as an example of ‘extreme’ police work. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to develop themes elucidating psychological and physical impacts on officers and their coping strategies. Findings: Personal consequences were framed within the conceptualisation of secondary trauma. Emergent findings converged with previous studies on burnout and vicarious traumatisation. Under the theme ‘the ailing self’ participants reported feelings of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, intrusive imagery, altered beliefs and cognitions as well as disrupted intimacy with partners. Coping adaptations included sensory shutdown, avoidance, dissociation and a reduction in victim care. Practical implications: The findings support the need to consider occupational interventions to address risk factors associated with caseload, tenure, personal experience of neglect (e.g. in childhood), and the permeability of work and family boundaries for such exceptional policing tasks. Originality/value: The paper contributes to a nascent literature on specific sources of stress in ‘extreme’ police work. Our theoretical contribution is the focus on the emotional and physical aspects of vicarious trauma, which have been less well understood than cognitive aspects Our practice implications stress the need for targeted support activities given the profound psychological consequences of prolonged exposure to distressing material.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Gender, Police officers, Sexual violence, Secondary traumatic stress, Vicarious trauma, Organisational support
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Science > School of Psychological Sciences
    Depositing User: Almuth McDowall
    Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2020 11:12
    Last Modified: 07 Aug 2023 16:11


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.

    Archive Staff Only (login required)

    Edit/View Item Edit/View Item