The significance of gender representation in domestic violence units
By Norma M. Riccucci and Gregg G. Van Ryzin
Does increased representation of women in government agencies result in policy outcomes that are beneficial to women? Does it increase women’s confidence in those government agencies? These questions are at the core of democratic accountability: the ability of government to represent and serve all members of its citizenry.
The prevailing research demonstrates a number of important outcomes of gender diversity in public organizations. But does gender diversity also influence how the general citizenry judges the organization’s performance, trustworthiness and fairness? To get at this question, we designed a survey experiment in which we varied the gender representation and performance of hypothetical police domestic violence units (DVUs). Domestic violence is a problem that persists globally, and gender diversity in the units responsible for its eradication is imperative. In the United States alone, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women, and women between the ages of 18 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of domestic violence; 75 percent of the perpetrators are male. On average, more than three women are murdered a day by their husbands or boyfriends.
Our experiment showed that increased representation of women positively influenced people’s trust in the agency and views of its performance, independent of whether the agency’s performance was high or low. This finding is important because the more citizens view the police as legitimate and trustworthy, the more willing they may be to report domestic violence and other crimes to the police. They may also be more likely to cooperate in follow-up investigations, which can lead to improved law enforcement outcomes.
While the US Congress renewed the federal Violence Against Women Act in February of 2013 — expanding coverage to offer protections to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender victims of domestic abuse, as well as to immigrants and American Indian women assaulted on reservations by non-Indians — if the crimes go unreported, the laws and policies will be ineffectual.
The research thus far shows that the policy domain within which bureaucrats work must be linked to the interests of those being served (for example, women seeking child support or veterans seeking benefits). Even police departments that are racially diverse are seen as more legitimate than those that are not, regardless of police practices. But, would diversity or representativeness matter if the mission or outcomes of agencies were not tied in any way to gender, race, ethnicity, or shared identities (e.g., veterans)? For example, would increasing the representation of women officials in local governments’ recycling programs encourage women to increase their recycling behaviors? This issue is yet to be explored, and would contributed greatly to research on the benefits of representativeness or diversity in government.
Norma M. Riccucci and Gregg G. Van Ryzin are the authors of “Representative Bureaucracy in Policing: Does It Increase Perceived Legitimacy?” (available to read for free for a limited time) in the latest issue of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Norma M. Riccucci is Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers University, Campus at Newark. Professor Riccucci has published extensively in the areas of public management, affirmative action, human resources and public sector labor relations. Gregg G. Van Ryzin is associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey. He is an expert on surveys and methodology, and conducts empirical research on a range of topics, including housing and community development, citizen satisfaction with urban services, nonprofit organizations, performance measurement and evaluation, and comparative public opinion about government policy and institutions. Prof. Van Ryzin is widely published in scholarly journals in public administration, policy analysis, and urban affairs.
The Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory serves as a bridge between public administration and public management scholarship on the one hand and public policy studies on the other. Its multidisciplinary aim is to advance the organizational, administrative, and policy sciences as they apply to government and governance. The journal is committed to diverse and rigorous scholarship and serves as an outlet for the best conceptual and theory-based empirical work in the field.
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