The way that police officers get away with their crimes serves as an important reminder about how women are discredited when it comes to rape accusations
There’s a certain timeline of appropriate actions women are told to take if they are sexually attacked. Don’t shower; get help; call the police. That last one seems to be hardest – most rapes aren’t reported to law enforcement, and much of the mainstream advocacy against sexual assault is bent on changing that.
But how can we expect women to report their rapes to police when the police have done such a poor job in the past helping women and believing their stories? And what are victims to do when the very people they’re supposed to report to are the ones doing the attacking?
This week – as jury selection started for Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer going on trial for the alleged sexual assault of 13 women – the Associated Press published the results of a year-long investigation showing that sexual assault committed by police officers isn’t that rare an occurrence. They found that over a six-year period approximately 1,000 police officers – a number they call “unquestionably an undercount” – had been fired for crimes ranging from rape and sexual misconduct to the possession of child abuse images.
One Florida police chief told the AP: “It’s so underreported and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.”
It’s not news that the very people tasked with helping others sometimes hurt them instead; police misconduct in the United States ranges from corruption to murder. So that sexual violence is also prevalent among officers, sadly, is not entirely shocking. But the way that police officers get away with their crimes – targeting the most marginalized women because they’re less likely to seek help or report the attacks – serves as an important reminder about the way power operates and how women are discredited when it comes to accusing someone of rape.
The Counted: people killed by police in the United States in 2015 – interactive
The Guardian is counting the people killed by US law enforcement agencies this year. Read their stories and contribute to our ongoing, crowdsourced project
Holtzclaw, who is facing 36 charges, for example, is accused of targeting black women, many of whom were afraid of arrest or were drug users, making them all the more vulnerable to being disbelieved. One 44-year-old woman who is reportedly set to testify that Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex, for example, was a convicted felon. She said: “Who am I to a police officer?”
Holtzclaw, 28, was only charged after he attacked a woman with no criminal record (who therefore had less to be afraid of).
In a wholly predictable move, Holtzclaw’s defense attorneys have already used some of the accusers’ criminal history against them in questioning; they’ve already brought the victims’ histories up in their opening statements. The very reason these women were targeted will be used to try to discredit them.