Study: One quarter of female drug offenders report experiencing police sexual misconduct

December 13, 2013 by Jill Pease, University of Florida

A new University of Florida survey suggests that police misconduct against female drug offenders may be more pervasive than previously thought.

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

It is believed to be the first systematic study to assess sex trading between and female offenders from the women's perspective. The findings appear online ahead of print 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, 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.

In 2009, 1.3 million American women were incarcerated or under correctional supervision, up from 600,000 in 1990, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Previous research has shown that female offenders have higher rates than the general female population of physical or sexual abuse as a minor, childhood household dysfunction and adolescent pregnancy.

Data for the UF study on police sexual misconduct were gathered as part of the Sisters Teaching Options for Prevention, or STOP, project, led by Cottler while she was on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis. Funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, STOP was an HIV prevention study conducted from 2005 to 2008 to reduce high-risk substance abuse and sexual behaviors among women in drug courts. Prior to beginning the study, researchers conducted focus groups with women in a medium-security institution.

"During our conversations the women revealed that their sex partners included police officers and it wasn't a long time ago, it was happening quite recently," said Cottler, the associate dean for research and planning at the College of Public Health and Health Professions. "These focus groups formed the basis for the addition of a dozen or so questions that we inserted into our study questionnaire."

The study involved 318 participants, age 18 or older, who were under the supervision of a probation or parole officer for a non-violent offense. Study recruiters were stationed in two St. Louis-area drug courts during dockets that included women charged with substance-related violations. The women completed surveys led by trained interviewers with information collected on demographics, drug-use history, psychiatric disorders, stressful life events and experiences with police sexual misconduct.

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. Only half said they always used a condom with an officer. Fifty-four percent of the women said the officer offered favors in exchange for sex, such as to avoid arrest or being charged with a crime, and 87 percent said officers kept their promises. About one-third of the women who had experienced police sexual misconduct characterized the encounter as rape.

Women who were unemployed, had multiple arrests, adult antisocial personality and lifetime use of cocaine and opiates were at highest risk of trading sex with an officer.

The researchers stress that police sexual misconduct is likely perpetrated by a small number of officers and not by a large proportion of officers. They noted that because of the unequal distribution of power between an officer and a female offender, sex trading should never be considered consensual.

"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 through policies and trainings."

Further research should look at the extent of police among other populations, the researchers said.

Explore further: Research addresses impact of violence against women

Related Stories

Research addresses impact of violence against women

December 9, 2013
As Courtenay Cavanaugh explains, physical and sexual violence against women is nothing short of an epidemic.

New study examines link in college women's use of substances and condoms

November 14, 2013
A new study from researchers at The Miriam Hospital finds a link between alcohol consumption and reduced condom use among college women. The findings also indicate that women who smoke marijuana with established romantic ...

Women in ER for non-urgent care can be screened for health needs

July 18, 2013
(HealthDay)—Survey instruments may be used to screen for information about abuse experiences, substance use, and sexual health in women seeking non-urgent care at an emergency department, according to research published ...

Brits having less sex—but more variety

November 25, 2013
When it comes to the bedroom, the British may be getting less busy, but more creative. According to results from the latest national sex survey, Britons are having sex less often—but the kinds of sex they're having are ...

New study explores how to decrease risky behavior among parolees in the community

April 12, 2012
Police officers are always trying to control the misconduct of those who are on parole in order to control crime in the community, but what types of behaviors land them back in jail and what can law enforcement officials ...

Male on male consensual sex and sexual assault common in South Africa

June 18, 2013
A survey of adult South African men published in this week's PLOS Medicine, shows that while overlapping sexual relationships with women appear to be common, roughly one in 20 men reported consensual sexual contact with a ...

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.