Consent is impossible when in police custody

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Some things are just common sense, or so you would think. You may hear of a police officer defending himself in a rape trial, claiming the woman in his custody consented to having sex with him and think, “Of course a woman in police custody cannot consent to sex with the officer detaining her, that is common sense.” But in 35 states, including Texas, you would be wrong. Fifteen states have passed laws closing the police rape loophole, and Texas should be next.

An 18-year-old girl in New York reported being raped by two police officers in September 2017 while in custody after officers found weed in her car. She said she was pulled over, along with two males who were let go, but she was detained and placed in the back of a police van. While in the van, she said the officers took turns raping her while driving around the neighborhood before dropping her off near where she was arrested. She got a rape kit that night, and DNA matched the two officers who detained her. According to the New York Post, the two officers were indicted in October 2016 and suspended from the NYPD without pay.

The officers are not claiming this girl made up her story; they are admitting that they arrested her and that while she was handcuffed in the back of the police van, they took turns having sex with her. The big difference between the officers’ story and the woman’s is they claim she consented to this although she says she repeatedly said no.

Police officers should not be able to use consent as a defense when accused of sexual harassment, abuse, assault or rape while on duty. While on duty, police officers are in positions of significant power and authority over civilians and could easily use that power to ignore a woman’s “no” or to even coerce a woman into saying yes.

Since 2006, 26 police officers charged with sexual assault or rape have been acquitted or had charges dropped by claiming the victim consented, according to a study done by the Buffalo News.

Just like an intoxicated or drugged person cannot consent to sex, someone in police custody cannot consent to sex, ever, under any circumstances, period. This should be obvious. All 50 states should pass laws making it illegal for police officers to have sex with people they have detained and explicitly stating that they cannot use consent as a defense when accused of sexual misconduct. Let’s make Texas next.