BY PAULA MEJIA
Truthout revealed last week that there is no organization keeping good data on sexual violence perpetrated by police. Universities are being pressured by students, alumni and human rights groups for more transparency regarding sexual assault cases on campuses, but sexual misconduct committed by on-duty police officers goes vastly underreported. Truthout also says that when police-perpetrated sexual violence is reported, shorter sentences or dismissed cases are more common.
Cases of police-perpetrated molestation, harassment sexual assault, rape and molestation have been all over the headlines recently. A former Washington, D.C., officer admittedthat he forced teenagers to work as escorts out of his apartment, while a former Wisconsin police officer was arrested for murdering two women and stuffing them into suitcases. An officer in Texas was arrested on domestic violence charges and was recorded saying that his wife would benefit from being “cut by a razor, set on fire, beat half to death and left to die.” A former Georgia officer was sentenced to 35 years on child molestation charges after he forced himself on two girls and a woman while on duty.
Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victims services at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, told Truthout that her organization receives multiple reports of police-perpetrated sexual crimes each month via its anonymous hotline. Marsh is unsure how many of these cases result in an arrest, and how many times charges are dismissed because the officer’s word is taken over the victim’s, partly because of the power dynamics in such situations and partly because of how the rapists select their targets.
“[Officers] tend to choose victims who would lack so-called credibility in the eyes of other law enforcement, whether it was somebody who was engaged in sex work or whether it is somebody who was intoxicated or who was using drugs, and then they use that justification for why that person cannot be believed,” Marsh said.
“Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception,” she continues. “It’s hard to do research and find reliable statistics on a topic that nobody wants to speak about.” Anunofficial study by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project found that sexual misconduct is the second greatest of all civilian complaints nationwide against police officers, at 9.3 percent in 2010. The organization noted that 354 of the 618 officers under investigation for sexual offenses were accused of engaging in nonconsensual sexual acts, and just over half of the 354 cases involved minors.
Within the criminal justice system, sex offenders are difficult to prosecute, but officers accused of sexual crimes are even tougher to convict. According to a U.S. Department of Justice survey, 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, only 3 percent of rapists will serve time in prison, and the numbers for cops are nonexistent. The study notes that these cops are typically unsupervised and, if arrested, often have to recount the crime to, well, other cops. The truth is that little accountability exists for law enforcement officials.
Consider the case of Nicole Smith. In a report, she describes in graphic detail the horrible violence she endured when a police officer raped her over 20 years ago. “He just started beating the shit out of me, and he had a gun,” she said. “I remember him telling me, ‘You’re never going home’…. I could feel the gun on my face.” The officer was off duty when the rape happened (the two were briefly dating at the time). But a study conducted by Bowling Green State University finds that more than half of reported police-perpetrated rapes between 2005 and 2007 occurred when an officer was on duty.
Smith isn’t sure if she would have talked to the police at all had a friend not taken her to the hospital after the attack. “My paranoia was beyond belief when I was talking to the police,” she said. When Smith pressed charges, the officer was already standing trial on charges of raping and assaulting another woman. That case was dropped, and Smith’s case ended in a plea bargain for a life sentence. Smith’s rapist was deemed eligible for parole after an initial five years, then again every three years, although she said he has a good chance of getting out as early as September 2015 due to recent changes in the state’s parole board operations.
The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women funded an initiative by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to develop policies and training standards to prevent police-perpetrated sexual misconduct. The American Prospect reports, however, that the organization fails to track progress within its local departments. In 2000, the Department of Justice and the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training unveiled the National Decertification Index, a database compiled to prevent decertified officers from becoming rehired due to misconduct. The most recent version of the index contains reports from only 37 states.
Rape in America: Justice Denied
(FBI, Justice Department) Police departments told us rape kits don’t get tested due to cost – up to $1,500 a kit — a decision not to prosecute, and victims who recant or are unwilling to move forward with a case.
Psychologist David Lisak from the University of Massachusetts has spent twenty years studying the minds of rapists.
“Somehow all we can do is take the statement from the victim. Take the statement from the alleged perpetrator and then throw up our hands because they are saying conflicting things,” he said. “That’s not how we investigate other crimes.”
An NYPD officer has been arrested on rape and other charges in a series of sexual assaults on a 16-year-old girl from the church where he was also a pastor, police say. Officer Vladimir Sosa, 38, who works out of the 46th Precinct in the Bronx, was arrested in the 43rd Precinct Tuesday morning, police said.
The 7-year member of the force was a pastor at the church where his alleged victim was a member, according to prosecutors.
He has been charged with rape, criminal sex acts, sexual misconduct, child endangerment and sex abuse.
During his arraignment Tuesday, Sosa’s attorneys said he has no prior criminal record and said the charges come a year after the alleged incidents.
Sosa was released on his own recognizance. His attorney had no comment after the court appearance.
NYC rape case highlights loophole that allows police to dodge sex assault charges
The 18-year-old woman was driving with two friends near Coney Island in September when the two plainclothes detectives pulled her over and found marijuana. The officers released the two male passengers, handcuffed the woman and told her she was under arrest, prosecutors say.
Then, investigators say, detectives Eddie Martins and Richard Hall repeatedly sexually assaulted her before releasing her on Sept 5. The woman went to the hospital, where prosecutors say DNA was obtained that matched both men.
According to the victim, named Anna, the officers brutally took turns raping her inside an undercover NYPD van, CBS New York reports.
But the officers have pleaded not guilty to rape and other charges, and the case has highlighted an apparent loophole in the laws of New York and many other states that may allow police to escape sexual assault charges by claiming sex acts were consensual. While New York law already bars sexual contact between corrections workers and inmates, it doesn’t apply explicitly to police.
“I was shocked,” Democratic state Sen. Diane Savino said of when she learned of the oversight. “It should be clear across the state for officers from every department, that when someone is in custody they do not have the ability to consent to sexual activity.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is part of a bipartisan push to close what the Democrat calls “an egregious loophole” with legislation that would make it clear that people in police custody cannot give consent. A bill has already passed the state Assembly and was pending in the Senate.
The case underscores a chronic problem that was documented in an Associated Press investigation in 2015 that found about 1,000 officers across the country had lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault. That total didn’t even include New York or California because those states didn’t track the number of officers fired for such offenses.
Bowling Green State University criminal justice Professor Philip Stinson has studied sexual misconduct by police around the country and confirmed such loopholes exist in many state laws.
But he cautioned that the legislation in New York might create new loopholes. Citing cases in which officers requested sexual favors in exchange for dropping a ticket or the threat of arrest, Stinson said motorists or pedestrians stopped by police are still under the power of the officer even though they haven’t been formally arrested or detained.
But laws are needed, he said, as are internal department policies and programs that make it easy and safe for victims to file complaints. A study released two years ago reviewed policies of 35 policy departments and found that only about half had rules relating to sexual misconduct by officers.
In New York City, for example, a police watchdog group announced just this past week that it will begin investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by officers. Previously, such allegations were handled internally by the department.
Stinson said his research shows that the small minority of officers who engage in sexual misconduct often target drug addicts, sex workers, children, young women or others that they believe will be too frightened to come forward.
“It’s the most vulnerable girls and women – and sometimes teenage boys and men – that I worry about,” he said. “The ones who are perceived by officers as being throwaways.”
In New York, the two detectives resigned from the department before they were to face an administrative proceeding that could have resulted in their firing. Their criminal trial has yet to begin. Martins’ attorney Mark Bederow wouldn’t talk about the defense, but stopped short of saying his client denied all contact with the woman.
“The allegation that there was any non-consensual sexual activity is patently false,” he said.
John Arlia, who represents Hall, didn’t respond to calls.
© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.