To Serve and Protect–And Sexually Assault?

Recently, a New York City police officer was charged with raping a drunk and comatose woman while his partner stood watch. The two were cleared of rape charges, to feminist outrage, but the fact that the officer crossed sexual boundaries with a very intoxicated woman was undisputed (he admits to kissing her shoulder).

Many of us already knew that cops nationwide have a long history of crossing the line of duty and getting sexually aggressive with women. For years, stories have surfaced of on-duty police around the country allegedly groping, harassing–and yes, masturbating onto–women.

In Chicago last year, 20-year-old Tiawanda Moore reported that when an officer was called to her apartment on a domestic-violence complaint, he groped her breast and handed her his personal phone number.

When Moore went in to the station to file a sexual-harassment complaint against the offer, she says Internal Affairs officers told her not to bother. They began to threaten her if she insisted on going ahead with her charges. Moore got scared so she turned on the recorder inside her Blackberry, and captured their threats with her phone’s recording device.

When the officers realized they were being recorded, they arrested Ms. Moore and dumped her into the Cook County Jail. Illinois has a very tough law against recording a conversation with any law enforcement official without their knowledge. The law protects police and DA’s from being entrapped–but also violates the First Amendment, according to the ACLU in Chicago. Now out of jail, Moore faces 15 years in prison on charges of “eavesdropping”: The same penalty for rape in Illinois. And the cop she claimed grabbed her breast? No charges were brought against him. None.

Meanwhile, in 2004 in Orange County, California, a police officer pulled a woman over for a traffic stop, then masturbated and spilled his semen onto her.

In court, the police officer admitted to ejaculating on the woman, but his defense attorney, had a handy explanation ready: “She got what she wanted,” and furthermore, “She’s an overtly sexual person.”

A jury of 11 men and 1 woman acquitted the cop. His attorney had successfully demonized the victim, asking her about her part time job as a stripper: “You dance around a pole, don’t you?” Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant. But the defense attorney pushed ahead–the judge did not stop him when he rephrased, “Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?”

Moore had no more legal success in Chicago. She and her attorney tried to get the charges against her dropped by going to court, but she was turned down. Not only did the federal court judge refuse to dismiss the eavesdropping charges, the judge also turned down her request that the officer be held accountable for his alleged inappropriate sexual behavior.

Here we have two young women, both strippers, treated unacceptably by police. Neither cop is being held accountable. One of the women awaits trial and faces serious jail time, the other woman was humiliated twice: Once when a peace officer ejaculated on her, and again when a jury let him get away with it.

Photo from Flickr user Nevele Otseog under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. That’s not even the worst of the Chicago stories! This spring, a woman had a fight with her boyfriend late one night and was walking down the street crying, in an affluent neighborhood. She was really drunk (possibly too drunk to give meaningful consent). Two cops on patrol offered her a ride home. They stopped at a liquor store to buy booze (while on duty!), and one cop had sex with the woman in the SUV (while on duty!) while his partner was in the store. At her apartment, they played strip poker (on duty!) and engaged in more sexual activity (on duty!). Eventually the woman yelled for help, and a neighbor saw a partly undressed cop going down the hallway. Yes, the rest of his uniform was found in the woman’s apartment. The cops have been suspended, but how likely is it that they will be tried and convicted of rape?

    And there was a prior accusation against one of these two cops (from just weeks earlier, I think), but that time the woman’s complaint wasn’t taken seriously. So the woman in the latter case is suing the police department for failing to take action earlier to prevent what happened to her.

    The pair of cops in question work out of my local precinct, too. Makes me nervous about thinking the cops would actually help me if I needed it.

  2. Rape is about power so this is not surprising to me that cops would exert power over vulnerable women.

  3. Carlos DeLeon says:

    The stories described in Rubin’s “Serve…Protect… Assault” repeat themselves minute-by-minute on the streets and in homes, offices, jails, and factories around the world.

    If we kept track of the instances of violence and injustice recorded above, I suspect the tally board would run faster than a computerized readout of the cost of war. Who knows? Maybe the two are connected.

  4. Carlos DeLeon says:

    And in the courts. Let’s not leave the courtroom off the list mentioned above!

  5. I think the abuse of police power is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed in our society. Our supposed ‘protectors’ turn out to not be that at all, but rather agents of oppression.

    And the fact that prosecutors and judges are reticent to punish these dangerous offenders just gives them the greenlight on the public.

    Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry’s early release of BART police officer Johannes Mehserle after serving 11 months of his two year sentence for the execution of Hayward resident Oscar Grant is another example of system that doesn’t seem to be inclined to right itself.

  6. I’ll sign that petition! What DO we get from the government if we’re not protected by the law?

  7. Lauren McCullough says:

    YES, there are thousands upon thousands of reports of police misconduct in the sexual assault category. What is more scary is when they all stick together, the other officers, the department, and then the judges. It makes you feel as if they are in some “good ‘ole boys” club. I think of the movie the “The Changeling” and how the good ‘ole boys of that day dealt with women that bothered them or that they didn’t want to answer to. Unfortunately, those things still happen today. Was just listening to an NPR story about a small health post in Kermit, Texas where the doctor on duty was inept and should not have been practicing. The nurse who began to go public about her professional opinion of the doctor (he was posing a threat to patient safety!) found herself up against a wall of small town politics. It was a small town, but when they are all up against you, they are powerful. They tried to throw her in jail for 10 years as a punishment for speaking out about this doctor’s very real and very dangerous medical services. A network of shady politicians (one who had been run out of his former town for being involved in a prostitution ring) went up against her.

    Or the police department that was allowing young *unmarried* officers to actually receive hand jobs, to completion, before then arresting the young Asian women who filled up the massage parlors. Did they ever organize a sting against the network of criminals trafficking these women in? No. They simply got their hand-jobs, arrested and deported hundreds of young women before the story got national attention, almost 5 years ago. Ridiculous! And I try not to cringe when people ask me why I am a feminist.

    For more on the NPR story listen here:

  8. It’s way too easy for a cop to go on a power trip. Heck, doesn’t it make sense that people with a strong desire to control others would naturally gravitate towards this occupation? It’s not like there are any oversight over cop behavior unless the behavior is so horrendously appalling that it can no longer be ignored.

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