Abby Henn said she can still picture every crime scene she’s investigated with Illinois State Police.
But even dealing with that isn’t as difficult as being a woman working in the criminal justice system can sometimes be.
“We can’t unsee what we’ve seen,” she said. “... Those things are somewhat of a challenge. But I would say what has been an even bigger challenge for me is probably being a female in law enforcement.”
Henn said she’s felt ostracized by the men with whom she’s worked.
“You don’t get invited out on the fishing trips and to do the going out for drinks that all the guys do,” she said. And when she was promoted, it got harder.
“I didn’t have access to a room, and I was told, ‘Well, the janitor doesn’t even have access to this office.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not a janitor. I’m a crime scene investigator ...’” Henn said.
At the time, she was supervising people who had more time on the job and who were older than she was.
“That was a huge challenge, but I knew that I knew what I was doing. I just kept going and pushing on,” she said. “Eventually they came to accept me. ... I love working with them now.”
Henn shared advice and stories of overcoming gender bias among a panel of women who work in law enforcement agencies Thursday at Lindenwood University-Belleville.
The women — from a judge to a retired FBI agent — answered student-submitted questions about what it’s been like for them in their careers.
You can have a glorious career, and you can surpass those handful of idiots that are still out there.
Karen Simons, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshal Service Southern Illinois District
Marita Malone, who has nearly 25 years of experience from her time working as a special agent in the FBI, told the students they can’t be easily upset if they want to pursue a job in criminal justice.
“Women in law enforcement cannot have thin skins. Even today, you will get remarks from the opposite sex,” Malone said. “And you can’t sue for everything. ... Only those things that are a direct violation of your rights should you be concerned about. Everything else, you gotta let go.”
Another panelist, Karen Simons, said she didn’t let the way some men treated her discourage her from working. Today, she says that instead of having a reputation for being “a filer,” who reports every time something happens, she’s the chief deputy for the U.S. Marshal Service Southern Illinois District.
“You can have a glorious career, and you can surpass those handful of idiots that are still out there,” Simons said. She recounted a time a man touched her neck and licked a sucker she held in her hand while in the workplace. Another man refused to work with her because she’s a white woman, Simons said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Reppert said a lawyer she hadn’t met once mistook her for a cocktail waitress when she was at a social gathering with fellow attorneys.
“You shake that stuff off,” Reppert said.
Deb Phillips, an assistant St. Clair County state’s attorney, stressed the importance of not giving up.
“Set your goals. Work hard. And if your goal is something that in your heart of hearts you want to do, you can attain it,” Phillips said.
Laura Beasley, a partner at the law firm Joley, Oliver & Beasley, P.C., said she’s learned that there’s one way to get noticed among the men in the field: “You gotta work twice as hard.”
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Zina Cruse agreed, saying that means getting to work earlier and staying there longer.
“You’re not seen unless you’re doing double. You’re just not,” Cruse said. “Even in 2017, that is the case.”
Set your goals. Work hard. And if your goal is something that in your heart of hearts you want to do, you can attain it.
Deb Phillips, assistant state’s attorney with the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office
For Master Sgt. Tammy Grime, many of the men she works with are inmates at the St. Clair County Jail.
“You have to prove yourself,” she said. “... You can’t be in our field and be weak and, you know, go have a crying fit in the corner because you got involved in a fight.”
“It’s gotta be a career that you really want to do,” Grime added.
Just two of the nine women said they had experienced salary disparity in their careers. For Simons, it wasn’t that she earned less than the men she worked with. “I make more,” she said.
Beasley, on the other hand, said women working in private practices like her are more likely to be paid less.
“I have many counterparts that make way more than I do even though I have more experience,” she said.
For men who want to work in law enforcement, Malone, the retired FBI agent, advised them to give women the same treatment as men in the workplace.
“Personally, I just wanted to be treated the same way,” she said. “I wanted supervisors to give me the same cases as the men.”