By Kasey Coster
Professor Molly Tambor’s interest in 20th century European history, especially on topics of women and gender, has led to an amazing discovery: the existence of women- only police forces.
Her initial research focused on the suffragist movement in Italy following World War II, when the women there began earning new rights for themselves. But while doing her research, Tambor said she found accounts of these newly-liberated women entering law enforcement, and began to explore their experiences as a new class of police officers trying to make it in a field predominately made up of men.
Tambor conducted her research at the Central State archives in Rome where the government stores its records. Tambor discovered something else among her findings: she found that the national director of the police force had reports submitted to him stating the possibility of allowing women to join the force. “I found that women who were protestors and activists were trying to get into the police force, so I started to follow the trail of paperwork,” she said.
Many male police officers were reluctant to have women join since they didn’t think women could stomach the crimes. “Women actually spent most of their time handling terrible crimes, including sex offenders, sex trafficking and prostitution,” Tambor said. “They ended up dealing with what seemed not appropriate for women.”
Tambor came across some interesting facts while doing her research as well. “Prostitution is technically legal in Italy, and when women are arrested they are charged with ‘disturbing the peace’. But when male prostitutes who are usually transgender are arrested, they are charged with ‘identity fraud’ because their identification papers say they’re male and pretending to be female.”
Tambor intends to write a book, or as historians call it a ‘monograph’, which is a detailed written study on a topic that might turn into a documentary. She said she found all these bizarre stories about women, the kind of policing they did, the obstacles they faced, the crimes they were involved in, and how society went crazy at the thought of police officers wearing skirts.
“I feel like my story is turning out to be not just about how law enforcement is different for men and women, but how the law is different for men and women too,” she said.