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FBI agent speaks on being a woman in the bureau

A woman in an FBI jacket facing crime scene tape.
Provided by FBI
Erika works on cases involving violence against children.

2022 marks the 50th year of women being allowed to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I spoke with Special Agent Erika about her experiences being a woman in such a male dominated field because of the sensitive nature of her work. Erika is being identified by her first name only.

Q: So what made you decide to join the FBI?

A: Well, a lot of FBI agents that I work with, most of them are. They say it's been a lifelong dream, but it wasn't necessarily the case for me. I always knew that I wanted to help people, but on a larger level. So initially when I went into social work, I wanted to help families and children. And then I quickly realized I could do more on a federal level. So initially I went over to the DEA side, but I wasn't getting that, that family and child aspect that I wanted to work in so dearly. And the FBI had the capability to work that. So I actually work what's called violent crimes against children. So I work to find those predators who are targeting our children. Um, so now being in the FBI, I can accomplish that dream of working on the large scale, helping children and families within the community.

Q: What kind of cases do you work on?

A: But you have your your kids that are kidnaped. We do work that we work human trafficking and sex trafficking. And then we also work in a images. So that was really obscene images and videos that are either taken or distributed. We work those kind of things to try and protect the innocence of our children out there.

Q: Do you think being a woman gives you a different perspective on those cases?

A: Definitely, that mothering aspect comes out a lot. So, I mean, don't get me wrong, the guys are very passionate about their cases and any time they work the same kind of field I am. But I think I look at it a little bit different because I just I see those children and I want to step into mom mode and I want to be able to protect them. And now whenever we deal with, say, a search warrant or an arrest warrant and there's children at these locations, I think that they feel a little bit more sense of calm when a female's there talking to them versus, you know, your bigger, scarier male law enforcement. So it helps me on those kind of levels. And then also, whenever I'm talking to a lot of these guys that are committing these crimes, they don't necessarily feel very comfortable talking to a female. And so when we're doing their interviews, the kind of it kind of is an asset to be able to talk to them because they're just they're so nervous to talk to a female. So it definitely has its advantages.

Q: And dealing with those kind of cases, it must be very difficult. How do you handle it?

A: It's definitely really emotional now. When I first started working this violation, I spoke with my boss and I was like, I don't know how I'm going to be able to handle this. It's definitely hard. But I think that once we get to the arrest portion where we can get these people that are committing these heinous crimes against children out of our communities. The gratification that the hard days are definitely worth it. And to know that I'm making the community safer, I can sleep better at night even after having to look at these kind of things.

Q: Have you faced challenges being a woman in the FBI and how do you address those?

A: Yeah, I I have faced some between the military and the DEA and FBI, they're all male dominated. And I'd have to say, for the most part, our society has transitioned to be more accepting of women in law enforcement. And so primarily all of the male coworkers or guys that I've run into have been very welcoming and accepting. Now don't get me wrong, I've run into ones who aren't as accepting, but I use that as a way to prove them wrong. And so anytime they're like, Oh, female, we should get one of the guys do that. I'm like, Well, let me show you, I can do it. I'm just as qualified to do it. And so I try and show them, Hey, there are females that are qualified to do this and they can do it just as good, if not better.

Q: What advice would you give to girls or women thinking about joining the FBI?

A: I would definitely say to go onto our website and see what our qualifications are. So a lot of young girls in high school, if they can understand what it requires to even apply, they can start working on those things ahead of time. But once you meet all of those qualifications, just just do it. You don't have anything to lose. You may as well go through the process and see if it's if it's a good fit for you. I definitely would recommend if you can do some shadowing of local law enforcement, do do it right along just to kind of get a taste of the law enforcement side of things. But otherwise, if if they're wanting to do it and have a desire like, I think that it is so worth it all the long hours are worth it and we definitely need more females within the bureau. We only have about 20% of our special agents are females. But the more we have, the more diverse it's going to be. And I think that that's the way of the future for someone who isn't sure they're cut out to be a special agent.

Q: Are there other routes to join?

A: There is definitely for anybody that feels maybe hindered that they wouldn't be able to meet the physical standards or something along those lines. Just know that there are so many other career paths within the bureau. There's intelligence analysts, there's support staff, there is other investigators that don't require as much as the physical aspect of the special agent, but there's definitely tons of opportunities.

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Steph Whiteside is a Digital Media News Specialist with WSIU radio in Carbondale, Ill. She previously worked as a general reporter at AJ+ and Current TV.
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