The rise of multicultural communities present a number of significant challenges to policing. The presence of several different belief systems and cultural norms means that police have to have a certain level of cultural competence in their work. Transnational migration creates communities that have a wide and varied set of rules that need to be considered in multicultural policing (Chan, 1997). Many of these issues center around gender relations in certain cultures, and women’s issues continue to be an important part of proper law enforcement (Meetoo & Mirza, 2007). There are cultural practices which relate to women which are actually illegal in the United States, and understanding how these play a part in the wider community is important. The purpose of this paper is to explore women’s issues in multicultural policing to assess which areas need to be focused on to improve policing and to understand the nature of women and gender relations in various areas of the United States.
One of the most important issues in multicultural policing is gender relations. Many cultures, including Islam, have rules about the circumstances in which a woman is allowed to speak to a man (Chan, 1997). Certain cultures forbid an unmarried woman from talking to an unmarried man to whom she is not related, whilst others require a male presence (Meetoo & Mirza, 2007). In these circumstances, a women may be unable to co-operate with a male police officer, and therefore may request a female officer to deal with any issues. This can be problematic in areas where there is a predominantly male police force where there may not always be a female officer available (Chan,1997). Questioning and arrest are both complex women’s issues because of this aspect of gender relations.
Similarly, many cultures do not view males and females in the same light. Those which tend to be more patriarchal often have issues with males taking orders from females (Garcia, 2003). In this case, female police officers may find it difficult to co-operate with males because of this gender-based hierarchy, and this evidently leads to a number of problems (Garcia, 2003). Again, it may be problematic where the police force is stretched thin and an officer of the appropriate gender is not available, particularly in spot crimes where immediate assistance is needed. It may also be difficult for female officers from non-patriarchal cultures to understand and appreciate this cultural rules as it may be offensive from her perspective; challenging her authority and disrespecting her ability to do her job properly (Garcia, 2003). Cultural sensitivity is important in areas such as this as it helps officers to understand how gender rules work in different cultures and to ensure that they are not taken as a personal insult.
Domestic violence is a crime that disproportionately affects women, and as such there are women’s issues in policing domestic violence (Chan,1997). Returning to the idea that some cultures do not follow the same gender relation patterns as others, domestic violence can be less or more common in certain communities (Chan,1997). One issue here is that the majority group in an area with decriminalized domestic violence may have negative stereotypes which promote certain minorities as being more primitive and violent (Chan,1997). In these cases, the assumption is that crimes against women in these areas are more common, and this creates a gendered meaning of “community” that can have a negative impact on safe and fair policing. Gendered racism and racialized sexism has been shown to shape the views of both victims and police responses to domestic violence, which can cause either over-policing or under-policing in some areas (Garcia, 2003).
In contrast, it should be recognized that communities do exist wherein domestic violence and crimes against women are more common. These have been identified as Asian women that marry through online networking and those who are in arranged marriages (Adelman et al., 2003). Understanding this element of a multicultural community can help to ensure that crimes against women are understood in the context of culture and therefore policing can be done in a manner that helps to target these issues at the source (Adelman et al., 2003). Overseas-born women that are particularly liable to be victims of domestic violence can then be targeted for prevention and specialist teams that are trained in dealing with these forms of crime can be positioned in areas that are most at risk. Having female police officers available in these areas has been shown to be beneficial to women that are at risk because of existing gender relation rules as well as the female-female sense of safety that is created (Adelman et al., 2003).
In conclusion, women’s issues are important in many areas of policing but none moreso than in multicultural communities. The biggest issue is, perhaps, the gender relations that are found within certain cultures and how they differ from the majority culture. In these cases, men and women may be unable to cooperate with officers of the opposite sex, and this can cause issues during both questioning and arrest. There are also issues in which institutionalized racism is used to make judgments about groups of women that are at risk from violent crimes, and this causes problems in over- and under-policing of certain groups. On the other hand, cultural sensitivity and cultural understandings can actually be beneficial in dealing with crimes against women because of the understanding of gender relations within that culture that creates a higher incidence of violent crime.