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.