In all but 15 states in the entire U.S., police officers face no legal repercussions for having sex with male and female arrestees in their custody.

In September of 2017, 18-year-old Anna Chambers sent an ominous tweet from her personal account referring to “crooked ass cops,” adding, “[I] swear i never want to see one again.” She soon went public through her attorney, alleging that two Brooklyn detectives — Eddie Martins and Richard Hall — raped her and forced her to perform oral sex. The alleged sexual abuse took place after the officers finding drugs in a vehicle Chambers was riding in during a traffic stop.

While Chambers’ two male friends were allowed to drive away scot-free, Martins and Hall told Chambers to stay behind so they could search her for drugs. Chambers then alleges that the detectives forced her to undress inside of a police van so they could search her more thoroughly.

Both Martins and Hall have since been removed from the New York Police Department and subsequently charged with rape. While the defendants say the sex was consensual, Chambers’ attorney, Michael David, said there was “zero consent” in the encounter.

“The cops were over 6 feet tall. She’s very petite, like 5-2 and maybe 100 pounds. There’s nothing she could do,” David said.

Chambers’ story prompted BuzzFeed News to publish an in-depth investigation on the epidemic of sexual abuse at the hands of police officers throughout the United States. In a Buffalo News database of approximately 700 police officers accused of sexual misconduct, reporter Albert Samaha found that 26 of 158 police officers charged since 2006 with sexual assault, sexual battery, or unlawful sexual contact with somebody under their control were able to get their charges dropped by claiming the accuser had consented to sex. And despite the obvious lopsided power dynamic of a defendant in police custody at the hands of an officer with a gun, only 15 states have laws on the books explicitly banning sexual conduct between police officers and arrestees.

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Chart by BuzzFeed News

According to the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project’s 2010 report, sexual abuse was the second-most common complaint filed against police officers in the United States (behind excessive force). That year, 9.3 percent of misconduct claims filed against law enforcement officers were in response to alleged sexual abuse. A 2015 investigation by the Associated Press found that over a six-year period, roughly 1,000 police officers lost their badges due to rape, sodomy, and other claims of sexual assault.

When accounting for various studies showing that both sexual assault and violenct victimizations are some of the most underreported crimes in America, it goes without saying that the sexual misconduct claims at the hands of police that have been reported are just a fraction of what is likely a much more severe epidemic.

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Data and chart by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project
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Data and chart by Bureau of Justice Statistics

Chambers’ story prompted New York City Council Mark Treyger to publish a post on Medium.com titled “There is no sexual consent while under police custody,” calling on states to pass laws forbidding police officers from having sex with arrestees.

“I am pursuing legislative action on the City level to make it illegal for an NYPD officer to engage in sexual conduct with someone in the course of law enforcement activity. Likewise, I urge my colleagues in the New York State Legislature to work quickly to remedy this omission in the Penal Code,” Treyger wrote. “Our laws regarding sexual consent must be brought into line with basic common sense, empathy, and human decency.”

 

Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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