Reform needed to prevent police officers from abusing power, protect victims of sexual assault

Two New York City police officers were charged with the kidnapping and raping of an 18-year-old Brooklyn woman who they took into custody in October 2017. 

The officers, however, were able to evade charges of sexual assault by stating that the victim consented to having sex. In many states, including New York, the law accepts claims like these made by officers. This technicality allows for manipulation, and leaves victims practically defenseless in pressing charges for sexual assault.

In New York, after handcuffing the woman, the officers instructed her to remove her bra to prove she had nothing to hide and then asked her what she would do to get out of the arrest, according to CNN.

The two detectives, who both pleaded not guilty, took the 18-year-old into custody for marijuana possession and then drove her away from the scene in their police van while she cried and begged them to stop. 

These officers evidently abused their positions, and these circumstances exemplify the need for better legal protection for survivors of these atrocities. 

Clearly not consonant, however, the lawyers for the two detectives argued that this could not be a case of assault, as the officers claimed that the 18-year-old woman had consented, according to The New York Times.

It is extremely disappointing that New York is one of 35 states in which armed law enforcement officials have the jurisdiction to claim that a sexual encounter—whether it is anything from groping to intercourse—was authorized as a way to avoid sexual assault charges, as reported The New York Times.

This is completely unacceptable, but thankfully, action has already been taken toward changing this law, which would prevent officials from evading assault charges. 

Currently, there are laws in place that forbid sex between correctional officers and inmates, but this does not apply to police officers and those whom they take into their custody, according to The Washington Post. Expanding that law so it would cover the police officers’ sexual interactions with those who they have taken into custody would prevent more horrifying cases like this from occurring. 

Above all else, broadening this law would prevent power abuse. Especially in cases of assault, time and time again those who have the upper hand take advantage of others with little to no repercussions, as can be seen prevalently through the “#MeToo” and “#TimesUp” movements. 

Furthermore, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to amend his budget proposal to include specific “language saying that people in police custody cannot legally consent to engage in sexual activity,” according to The Washington Post.  

While this may seem like an uncommon issue, the Buffalo News database “collected more than 700 credible cases of sexual misconduct from law enforcement personnel over a 10-year period.” Even when officers are held accountable for their actions, they often get away with ridiculously brief sentences. For example, after an officer was convicted of sodomizing a woman in 2008, he was given a mere 18 months in prison, according to The New York Times

New York and the other 34 states that allow this loophole need to reconsider the laws regarding sexual encounters between those who are in positions of influence and those who they have in custody. 

The rest of the world is working toward holding those who misuse their power accountable. It is imperative that there are laws in place to prevent officers from getting off free of sexual assault. 

Once these laws are established, corrupt activities and misconduct will not be tolerated; those whose job it is to protect will not be given any leeway to unjustly use their power.