Rape Victims Tell of Mistreatment by the NYPD

Trigger Warning for post and linked articles due to descriptions of sexual assault and rape apologism.

The New York Times recently ran a story of four different women who reported rape to the NYPD and were horrifically mistreated by police officers, their cases dismissed, minimized, and even laughed at. Each of their stories is too powerful to choose just one to excerpt.

There is the woman who was raped by a coworker but had her case closed without an arrest of the alleged perpetrator, despite apparently having “a witness, medically documented injuries and condoms that the man wore.” There is the woman who was drugged and raped by a stranger and told by a police officer “Oh, you were drunk.” There is the woman who was raped by an ex-boyfriend, only to have police snicker at her. And there is the woman who was choked and raped more than once by an acquaintance, only to have a detective remark “Sounds like rough sex gone awry.”

I’m not shocked by these stories. I read them in the media regularly. I see them shared on blogs. They are left here, in the comments of my posts. They are sent to me in my email. They do not surprise me. I know that they are not unusual. But they do always faze me; they do always hit me hard; they do always break my heart.

And while all of the details of these women’s identities are not disclosed (and thus any or all of the following issues may have in fact applied to their stories), the accounts do not even begin to explicitly discuss the brutal and specific challenges faced by victims who are of color, trans*, disabled, poor, queer, and/or sex workers, due to the prejudicial hierarchies regarding who are “real” victims of sexual assault. Victims are not only treated badly when they are women, or because they are women. They are treated badly because and whenever kyriarchal power structures have ruled them less than human on at least one basis — the more bases, the worse treatment.

The NYT piece linked above is one intended to accompany this article about the need for increased NYPD training on handling sexual violence cases. The article tells more horrifying stories of abhorrent, apologist, victim-blaming behavior by police, including the classifications of alleged crimes to lower charges and inappropriate questioning:

Several counselors who have sat with victims while they spoke to the police said inappropriate questions were common: Why didn’t you scream or call for help during the attack? When was the last time you used drugs? Are you just trying to get revenge because he does not like you? Do you pick up guys often?

Susan Xenarios, director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, said, “If I walk into a precinct and if I am disregarded or criticized or told this isn’t a rape because I don’t have any memory, I’m never going to go to anyone.”

The response has looked like this:

Responding to concerns that sexual assault complaints have been mishandled by the police in New York, a task force appointed by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has recommended new training protocols for officers dealing with sex crime victims.

The task force has called for a video to be shown to officers that emphasizes the Police Department’s policies mandating that crime reports be taken, and the procedures and sensitivity required in dealing with victims of sex crimes, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman.

The task force, which began its review in April, is also looking at specific cases to check if complaints were handled appropriately by the police. The task force is expected to meet with Mr. Kelly on Thursday to present its initial list of recommendations.

Personally, I hope that “initial list of recommendations” — no more recent reports on which I was able to find — contains a hell of a lot more than what is presented here. Because it really ought to be obvious that a video isn’t going to cut it.

This is not a problem of a few “bad seeds.” And while it plays a role, it’s not just a problem of ignorance, either. It’s a problem that is culture-wide both inside and outside of law enforcement, and it’s a problem that is systemic. It’s a problem that is certainly worse among some forces than others, but is most definitely not limited solely to the NYPD. And it’s a problem that requires immediate, intensive attention.

There need to be disciplinary protocols in place for officers who behave in the ways described throughout these articles. There needs to be a process for taking complaints about such treatment, and disciplinary protocols for failing to take such complaints. More than just a few specific cases need to be under review. And if the claim that it’s impossible to have the Special Victims Division handle every single case of alleged sexual violence is true — and I believe that it probably is — then police officers who are not a part of the Special Victims Division but will be managing such complaints regardless need much more intensive training. And that goes beyond a little video. If police officers are not going to treat sexual assault reports with the same respect, professionalism, and sensitivity that they are expected to use for other reports, then they can’t be expected to walk away fine with standard levels of training.

Elizabeth Pressman, one victim who was profiled in the Times piece and consented to being named, said the following when reflecting on her own awful experience:

“If I were to speak to a woman about reporting a rape, I would say: ‘Don’t put yourself through it. Don’t put yourself through the humiliation and the abuse,’ ” said Ms. Pressman, whose father is the veteran television newsman Gabe Pressman. “It’s horrific what the cops do to you. It’s not worth it. Be ready to be raped a second time.”

Until police forces commit to a hell of a lot more — or until, at this point, we just come up with and implement a whole new system entirely — Ms. Pressman’s words are going to continue echoing those of thousands and thousands of other victims, and they’re going to continue ringing true.


0 thoughts on “Rape Victims Tell of Mistreatment by the NYPD

  1. Jeannette

    This is so heartbreaking and you’re absolutely right that it’s all too common. As a rape crisis counselor I regularly interact with law enforcement and even the tone they take with survivors who report can be infuriating. They are trained to be manipulative, intimidating, and “discerning” with perps; unfortunately this tends to carry over into their interactions with victims as well. It’s like rape culture on steroids.

  2. ginmar

    These are the guys who create and enable the rape culture—if they’re not rapists themselves, or covering up for their rapist buddies on the force.

  3. Jenna

    I agree with Ginmar that the police enable rape culture, but they didn’t create it…they just enforce it.

  4. ginmar

    Rape is so much a phenomenon of enablers. One rapist? Well, if we valued women, it’d begin and end there. He’d go to jail, that would be it. But we don’t live in that world. One rapist couldn’t create rape culture; it took a slough of his friends, enabler, people who live vacariously through rapists, etc., etc.,

    There’s a lot of people invested in rape. It’s the one crime that people love to justify—-when it’s against women. Or straight men. (Gay men, interestingly enough, seen as creatures of sexuality like women are, are often blamed when they get raped, often by straight men.)

    I read shit like this—these cases—and I wonder more and more why women don’t just rise up and take to the streets.

  5. Kali

    I was…I guess…lucky when I reported.

    I chose to report my sexual assault years after the fact. I deliberately chose to report to the on-campus police at my university, because I had gone to the women’s center and talked to them and been told that when it came to reporting, the on-campus police tended to handle it a lot better than the sheriff. (we were in an unincorporated area, so if we didn’t go on campus, we got the county sheriff)

    They had tried to get a female officer over, but she wasn’t available, so they sent a male officer to take my report. He questioned me gently and only to clarify. I cannot tell you what a relief it was that I felt like he believed me. It was awful to have to relive it enough to give the detail needed for a report, but at least the situation was…as kind as it could be. In the Women’s Center rather than the police station, with the worker from the Women’s Center who I had spoken to before so I wasn’t alone with the officer.

    When it got hard is when it got referred to the county where it actually happened. The sheriff there…he told me that they weren’t going forward with my case because it was my word against his and that wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have any ‘proof’. He said the DA wouldn’t go forward on that case, and now years later, I wonder if he even brought my case before the DA.

    Well shit, I was assaulted and not raped. There couldn’t have been proof. There wasn’t violence enough to leave marks on me, and there was no rape kit done because there was no rape. There was no one who could corroborate my story because we were surrounded by his friends, and I never even learned their last names. I know someone, somewhere has pictures of him grabbing my breasts, and I know someone, somewhere heard me yell at him afterwards not to touch me like that in front of people, but I do not know who and where they are, so it doesn’t count.

    Justice? Ha. When it comes to rape and sexual assault, justice is a joke. I was as close to the ideal victim as you can get – underage, white, pretty, straight, able, academic/smart, virgin. And I never even got to have my day in court. The DA never talked to me about my case. I doubt he even knew I officially accused him.

    While it makes my guts twist to read these stories, while tears are streaming down my cheeks, while I am hurt and sad and so damn sorry, I am not surprised to read this story. And that, perhaps, is the saddest thing I can say.


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  8. Katrina

    Stories like this upset me personally because I feel like my silence does nothing more than protect my rapist. But adding to the number of cases thrown out makes me wonder if I would discourage someone else who was raped by a boyfriend. I just don’t see the point of reporting when the current culture would just say it wasn’t really rape because I invited him over for sex, consented to the sexual activity that happened right before the rape, or was asking for it by being sexually active in the first place. I’ve been blaming myself for 4 years now. I don’t need an untrained officer to blame me as well.

    Which brings up a disturbing question, in my opinion. Does New York really have to train cops not to blame the rape victim? They don’t blame robber victims or car jacking victims. Is society so screwed up when it comes to rape that even our LAW inforcement needs to be told a victim wasn’t asking to be rape/sexually assalted/ect.? Do sexual harassment cases (especially verbal as apposed to physical) even get the time of day?

    Considering that I live in the state of NY, this article really hits close to home.

  9. GallingGalla

    As a trans woman, I already decided years ago that I would not report any crime committed against me to police. Police abuse against trans women is rampant, and includes rape. I am *certain* that I will be at least verbally abused by police should I report rape or sexual assault to them.

    Another source of revictimization of victims of rape and sexual assault is friends, family, roommates, and other acquaintances (of any gender). How many victims of rape find that they have to hide the incident from these acquaintances, lest they be lectured by them – “Well, why didn’t you contact police? Well, I think you’ll just have to go through the humiliation! You don’t want that rapist to go free, do you?” These people often refuse to acknowledge that rapists go free anyway, because the police-industrial system gives them a pass.

    Hence, rape victims can get a triple-whammy – from their rapist, from the police, from acquaintances engaging in victim-blaming.

    It’s quite a lonely feeling to know that, should I be raped again, I won’t have anybody whom I can trust to talk with about the situation. And I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m raped or assaulted and come home to my house-share with marks.

    1. Kali

      You’ll have people like us. I know online community isn’t the same as being able to come home to your friends and family in person and find solace in their arms. But you can find people like us online, and know that we will believe you. We won’t victim-blame and act like anything you did could have possibly begun to make you responsible for the crime commited against you. We’ll respect your decision on whether or not to go to the authorities, because we know what it’s like. And we know that hatred against folks who are trans* is part of your experience – and something we do not engage in, because to us, you are human and you are the only person who can really know your gender and decide what kind of gender presentation you want to have.

      I speak for myself, but I suspect that especially in places like here, you will find other voices that will join mine.


    2. GabrielD

      I just wanted to second Kali. We can be here for you if you need us.

      As a transguy, I can understand the fear of police abuse. I have never reported any of the times I have been raped. I couldn’t stand the case being dismissed, and I couldn’t stand police mocking me, ignoring me, implying that I had it coming… I already suffer from depression and occasional suicidal ideation.

      We can be here to support you, whether you choose to report or not, and we can listen and share. We’ll love and care for you when you need us.

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