Gender-based violence amongst first responders: a scoping review

About the project

This review mapped the available literature over the past 10 years related to violence based on gender within the education and practice settings of first responders, reporting on the dimensions of how the evidence defines and describes first responder gender-based violence, and the implications on the first responder community and those served. First responder service organizations are historically male-dominated and structurally designed to be hierarchal, paramilitary type command and control led models. Training, practice and workplace orientation occurs in the public domain in small teams or individually and is distant from oversight and supervision. While the front line has seen an increase in the addition of women into the ranks, gender parity remains extremely low.

Up to 2817 research articles and grey literature published between 2013 and 2023 were reviewed, with 58 selected for further in-depth analysis. There were five major descriptive themes to emerge:

  1. prevalence of violence across first responder practice,
  2. lack of education and training about GBV,
  3. responsibility to report, prevent and consequence; who owns burden to change,
  4. significant safety and competency in practice due to GBV and stress burden, and
  5. unfair advancement and career progression opportunities based on gender.

Key findings

  • First responders are regularly exposed to physical and sexual violence in their workplaces, including violence perpetrated on others in incidents they attend which has far reaching implications for health/social and public safety.
  • Increasingly violence comes directly from the patient/client they are attempting to serve.
  • Bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions are normalized, often tied to initiation processes. The culture still values the white male archetype hero, and violence persists within workplaces, which are predominantly male and constructed to privilege masculine characteristics.
  • Significant gaps exist in data-tracking systems, making it difficult to understand if physical or sexual assault violence is occurring, whom perpetrators might be and what work or education spaces enable the perpetrator. Some indicators suggest the nature of organizational structure and work settings, alone with partners, away from supervisors, gives aggressors more opportunity.
  • Socialization occurs within the practice education and workplace orientation models with EDI curriculum, and policy available only following orientation or probation. No tools are provided to deal with GBV in practice education settings.
  • Reporting violence is discouraged, as it is often perceived as detrimental to the person reporting rather than the perpetrator. Women choose not to report so that they won’t ruin their careers or be labelled as a troublemaker.
  • Respectful workplace policies and initiatives are disconnected from the reality of practice and education settings, with a lack of meaningful benchmarks and reporting mechanisms. Questions about the duty to report versus the duty to prevent are emerging.
  • The code of silence is a significant factor for all students and new hires; cruelty is normalized as building toughness for the job.
  • Recruitment and advancement standards favour males, and disadvantage females, particularly related to pregnancy and parental policies.
  •  Equipment and attire are often designed for male use, placing women at risk and creating performance disparities.
  • Increase of female parity has improved but, once part of the front line, women are steered into “soft” roles rather than positions equal in leadership advancement or specialty teams.
  • Women in these roles are deeply committed to their work but lack training in managing peer violence and are devasted when violence is perpetrated against them. Organizational culture is a major source of work-related stress.
  • Witnesses to gender-based violence experience significant negative outcomes and lack avenues to follow up on reporting and consequences. Workplace burnout and professional incompetence are direct outcomes of workplace gendered violence, jeopardizing public safety.

Policy implications

  • Education for students, recruits and leadership about GBV must be developed.
  • Reporting, metrics and tracking data must be publicly available.
  • Reporting must be confidential, accessible, available and meaningful.
  • Culture change management including gender equity must be included in leadership and strategic planning; no complaints does not mean no issue.
  • Workforce implications on patient/public safety are significant due to GBV.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Jennifer Jasper, Primary Investigator, Program Director, Centre for Conflict Resolution, Community & Social Justice Division, JIBC:

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