Police Officers: Invisible Victims in the Line of Duty

Police Officers: Invisible Victims in the Line of Duty

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7348-8.ch003
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Police officers are exposed to many dangers on the job. Despite this, society may not intuitively consider officers to be victims. Research indicates officers experience various types of victimization on the job, and these victimizations can have direct and indirect physical, mental, and economic impacts on the officer. As a result of violent and nonviolent victimizations in the line of duty, there are negative consequences on officers' wellbeing. Despite this victimhood, police stories are not often headlined in the media, placed on political agendas, or discussed in local communities. Due to the lack of inclusion on these platforms, police officers are invisible victims. This chapter discusses how officers can be considered invisible victims and examines factors that address why society and officers themselves may not equate their experiences to victimization.
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Chapter Objectives

  • 1.

    Identify barriers that may prevent officers from viewing themselves as victims.

  • 2.

    Recognize barriers that may prevent society from perceiving officers as victims.

  • 3.

    Discuss the implications of violent and nonviolent victimization on police officers.



The most common definition of a victim is a person who experiences crime. However, victimological scholarship argues that being a victim can expand beyond experiencing a crime and apply to a person who experiences harm (Strobl, 2004; Van Dijk, 2009). Beyond defining what a victim is, norms usually describe the general attributes people think of when they think of a victim or a person who experiences victimization. Some of the most common attributes ascribed to victims by society are that they are weak and cannot defend themselves (Strobl, 2004). The norms that set the guidelines for what a victim is and how they are perceived have several implications for victims. For example, if a person who experiences victimization does not ascribe to the attributes or the perception of what a victim is, they are often not seen as victims, or may have difficulty being perceived as legitimate when they are claiming their victimhood (Christie, 1986; Van Djik, 2009).

The women's rights movement introduced victims' rights and gave victims attention in the early 1970s. Crime victims, specifically female domestic violence victims, gained rights and visibility through this social movement. Victims across the U.S. gained more visibility within society and the criminal justice system. However, through this movement, victimization and the victim label became associated with vulnerability, thus making victimhood more associated with femininity (Durfee, 2011; Howard, 1984). These stereotypes still exist and impact how individuals and society conceptualize the victim label and perceive individuals exposed to victimization. These stereotypes also contribute to explaining why police officers are invisible victims. More specifically, police officers are victimized individuals, but largely fail to be viewed as legitimate victims since the image of a police officer does not align with the aforementioned idea of who victims are, thus making their experiences and subsequent suffering invisible.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Nonviolent Victimization: Victimization that does not involve violence which causes harm.

Direct Victimization: A person who experiences harm as the subject of the victimization.

Authority Position: A position of power.

Danger Imperative: Argues that officers use violence in order to protect each other from the danger they are exposed to in the line of duty.

Personal Threat: Verbal threats towards a specific officer.

Assault: Violent attack that causes physical and emotional harm.

Non-Personal Threat: Threats of danger that are not verbally expressed towards a specific person.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. People may have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience long after the event has ended.

Violent Victimization: Victimization that involves a violent action which caused harm.

Victim Label: An identity which describes a person as having experienced a victimization.

Indirect Victimization: A person who experiences harm due to victimization but is not the subject of the victimization.

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