A teenager in New York is picked up by two New York City police officers. She is handcuffed, put into the back of an unmarked van, raped, then dropped off on the street a little way from the police station. This happened in September of 2017.
As reported by The New York Times, the two officers were detectives in an anti-drug unit. They pulled over the woman, who was driving, and two male friends in a park in Brooklyn. They were in plain clothes when they stopped the group. Her friends were let go and she was taken into custody. The reason provided for picking her up was a few loose pills in her purse and a small amount of marijuana in the car.
Once in the van, the woman was forced to perform oral sex on one of the officers, then he raped her. After that was done, the officers switched places, and the woman was forced to perform oral sex on the other officer. She was subsequently let out of the van–no charges were filed, no citation, no incident report, nothing.
After the incident, the teen went to the hospital where the nurses collected evidence for her rape kit. There were accusations of police intimidation. She pressed charges against the two cops, and the two men were indicted in October of 2017. These men were originally placed on modified duty, and later resigned after being charged with rape, sexual abuse, and various other misconduct charges. They resigned just days before a scheduled departmental trial, separate from the criminal trial. Reported by the Washington Post, the Police Commissioner has reportedly stated he would have immediately fired the officers if they were found guilty at the departmental hearing.
The cops claim that this was a consensual encounter. This, apparently according to the law is perfectly viable excuse. Buzzfeed investigated and found that in 35 states there is no law against having sex with people while in custody. Officers may claim consent and dodge sexual assault claims or charges. There are, however, laws in place nationwide that prohibit probation officers and guards in prisons and jails from having sex with persons in their custody.
The reason for these laws are painfully clear. No consent can exist in a power imbalance so severe. What are the repercussions if you say no? These people control where you walk, where you eat, when you pee. To a large degree your safety, your freedom rests in their hands. Likewise, these powers and influences also exist in the relationship between police and someone in their custody. How is it possible for a woman who has been taken into custody by police officers to freely give consent?
Beyond the legality of the issue, let’s take it back a step and ask why this isn’t even addressed in the policies of the New York Police Department. These men were placed on modified duty– after semen from the rape kit was matched to them, after they admitted to having sex with this woman while she was in their custody. Does the Commissioner think that he deserves praise for saying the men would have been fired if they were found guilty in their departmental hearing? The detectives should have been fired immediately.
Let us pretend for a moment, in whatever bizarro world you can imagine, that this kind of sex between police and suspect can be consensual, can you explain to me how having sex with a person in custody is an effective practice that can further good police work? Why is this allowable behavior for our police? The people hired to protect and serve are given a free pass to pressure people into sex to avoid a booking–by claiming consent? This is preposterous.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has put his support behind a proposal to make it illegal for police to have sex with people in their custody. I can’t say that I am particularly happy to hear about the very late response to address this institutionalized violence against women because it should not have taken this long, but hopefully as this story picks up more speed we may be able to see some progress to closing this disgusting loophole.
Violence against women is not breaking news and institutionalized violence against women has continued to pervade our society. This case is another striking example of just how prevalent these crimes still are and how frequently they fly under the radar. Settled in the middle of the country, a person that is reasonably informed about what’s being talked about in the current news cycles and stories that stream through social media, how is it that I have not heard about this until now? Why is this not being picked up with bitter outrage? In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we are demanding visibility and accountability. This can no longer go unpunished, underreported, and ignored.