Communities rely on police officers to keep them safe and bring wrongdoers to justice. While most police work diligently to maintain peace and order, however, some use their power for something much more sinister. Recently, shocking reports have emerged of cops who use their position as authority figures to commit sex crimes. Now it seems that these horrors are not as uncommon as people may think.
One such incident occurred in October 2017, when an 18-year-old woman was stopped by two plainclothes detectives in New York City. A search of her car yielded marijuana and Klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug, and she was placed under arrest. Once the detectives had her handcuffed in the back of their van, however, they allegedly demanded that she perform oral sex on both of them; one of the officers proceeded to rape her. The young woman reported the assault, and the detectives, who have since resigned from the force, were indicted on 50 counts of rape, kidnapping, and official misconduct. The victim claims that they threatened to charge her with criminal activity if she did not acquiesce to their demands.
The story was shocking to many, but recent studies reveal that this is hardly an isolated incident. In 2015, Buffalo News conducted an investigation into national incidents of police sexual misconduct. Examining court records and media reports from all over the country over a decade-long period, they found that a police officer is accused of sexual misconduct at least every five days. Most of these incidents involved officers taking advantage of people in vulnerable positions, including motorists who were pulled over, students or participants in job-shadowing programs, victims of violence, and police informants.
A former police officer who later pursued a career in academia conducted his own study to examine patterns in cases of police sexual misconduct. He reviewed case data from 500 arrests and found that approximately half of them involved on-duty cops. For those who committed offenses while off-duty, the badge or the presence of a service weapon was still a factor in most cases. About 20 percent of the arrests involved accusations of forcible rape, while another 20 percent alleged forcible fondling. A further study funded by the National Institute of Justice revealed that approximately half of the officer arrests alleging sexual misconduct involved victims that are under 18.
There have been numerous studies showing that young women are the most frequent victims of sexual assault by police officers, many of them teens. When committing sexual crimes, police officers tend to target women in more vulnerable populations, including women of color, transgender women, victims of domestic violence, drug or alcohol users, or sex workers. Some officers gain women’s trust after they have been the victims of other violent incidents; others threaten women with criminal charges if they do not comply with their requests. In many cases, the victims are women who would have questionable credibility if they came forward to report the assault.
Even without the question of credibility, it is difficult for victims of police violence to get justice. The police departments themselves are often the ones responsible for investigating these crimes, and victims often face threats, intimidation, or even legal action when reporting an assault. Many officers accused of sexual misconduct are allowed to remain with the force, some simply transferring to another department.
Combating these crimes will require a thorough overhaul of police procedures, including civilian oversight of investigations involving officers. Some steps are already being taken; many police departments require officers to report mileage when transporting arrestees to prevent detours, and some cities have conducted sting operations to catch criminal cops in the act. There is still much work to be done, however.
If you have experienced violence or other misconduct at the hands of a police officer, call our Philadelphia civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar. Our firm has the knowledge and experience to protect your rights in all types of police misconduct cases, and we are committed to ensuring that the officers responsible are held accountable for their crimes. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and nationwide. Call us today at 215-557-0099 or contact us online for a free consultation.