On Police Violence and “Rotten Apples”

A police officer named Jamie Slater smiles for the camera. He is pale and presumably white, with a bald head and glasses. He wears a tie and collared shirt underneath a traffic officer's bright yellow reflective uniform.In the U.K., a traffic police officer was just sentenced to time in jail for repeatedly contacting women he had pulled over for traffic offenses and harassing and coercing them into sexual activities in exchange for not pursuing their infringements. In total, the trial encompassed the victimization of eight different women:

Jamie Slater, 33, of Port Talbot, was sentenced to three and a half years at Cardiff Crown Court for misconduct while in public office.

He contacted the women after stopping them and offered to let them off if they had sex with him.

Slater was dismissed from South Wales Police in December.

The court heard how the South Wales Police officer used the police national computer to access personal data on his victims.

The married father-of-two stopped six women for minor motoring offences and requested their mobile phone numbers.

He later sent the women drivers text messages asking them to meet him for sex. The court heard Slater harassed women who refused to meet him.

Peter Davies, prosecuting, said all Slater’s victims had felt powerless to complain because he was a police officer in uniform.

Let us be absolutely clear about one thing: this was rape. A police officer offering to exchange a dismissal of offenses for “sex” is engaging in harassment, manipulation, coercion, and duress. When harassment, manipulation, coercion, and/or duress are present, consent is not. That the women technically could have said no is not relevant — the power differential and necessarily threatening nature of an “offer” such as the ones presented by Slater ensures that any “yes” is not equal to meaningful consent, but to compliance. And compliance and consent are two very, very different things. The women’s technical ability to say no also means exceedingly little when Slater was not above even more directly bullying the women into sexual contact when they refused his demands. This officer is, in fact, guilty not just of “misconduct” but of multiple rapes and multiple attempted rapes.

Sexual violence committed by police officers is also sadly not anything new. Which is why the framing of Slater’s crimes by the department really grates on me:

Tom Davies, Independent Police Complaints Commissioner for Wales, reassured the public this was a rare case.

He said: “Slater was a disgrace to all who work for the police service and abused the position of trust a serving police officer is given.”

He added: “Slater was a rotten apple and acted alone.”

I imagine it’s probably true that Slater did not commit his crimes as a part of a ring of rapist officers all working in conjunction with one another. He most likely acted without direct assistance from other officers. But to portray this as a situation involving a “rotten apple” is all the same incredibly misleading, and distorting the problem to a point that borders pretty strongly on outright lying.

The truth is, police sexual violence against women is commonplace. It is supported in both deeds and in words. It is denied and excused. Women of color are particularly at risk for police violence. Trans women are particularly at risk for police violence. And that’s mostly only covering violence that is sexually based — a fraction of all actual police violence. It’s also to not mention other police abuses of power that don’t employ explicit violence.

So this is a case of a rotten apple? I don’t think so.

Granted, all but one of those linked cases was from the U.S. And I would be very genuinely surprised to learn that the problem of police violence is not worse — and significantly worse — in the U.S. than it is in the U.K. It’s also encouraging that Slater has been tried and convicted for his crime. But I still remain unconvinced that there is not a culture of misogyny in the British police force — indeed, past cases of UK police officers being accused and/or convicted of sexual violence are not exactly hard to find. I also believe that Slater was able to get away with his crimes for so long because of a culture that involves fear of police authority and the expectation that cops will protect other cops before protecting the public.

Why is it so regularly assumed that we’ll feel better being coddled with reassurances about bad apples, rather than knowing that the real problem is being recognized and addressed? I can only assume the answer is that no one cares about how we feel, especially those of us who care about things like social justice and injustice, but rather about how to maintain a system that benefits the oppressor and doesn’t require the difficult work of change.

But it remains that presenting systemic problems as isolated, individuals ones is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Accepting the oppressor’s version of the story, that a systemic problem is really an isolated event, is one of the most dangerous things we can do. And it’s also one of the most powerful things we can do to ensure that oppressive systems stay in place and intact.

Jamie Slater may have acted alone to commit his rapes, but his crimes are not isolated. They’re a part of a larger system of police misogyny, rape apologism, violence, and unchecked, fearsome authority. Slater was not just a police officer who committed crimes, he was an a man whose job as an officer allowed him to commit crimes. And the more we remember that and point it out — repeatedly — every single time one of these cases comes up, the better.

0 thoughts on “On Police Violence and “Rotten Apples”

  1. Astrid

    Regardless of how common or rare police sexual violence is, the problem is in part the structure in which it is set. The fact that women fear complaining because Slater was a police officer in uniform. Also, I see the “reassurance” really as an attempt to conceal the truth that this is a structural problem, in the intrinsic power dynamic that comes with interacting with a police officer. This “reassurance” only reinforces this dynamic, because we learn once again not to question the integrity of a police officer.

    As a side note, what relevance does it have that Slater is married and a father to three? Is that some kind of sympathy game?

  2. Glauke

    Astrid, I tend to think it’s intended to normalise the guy in some way: “yes, he did something wrong, but he’s not abnormal! Like a rapist! Nothing to see here, move along!”

    Personally, I found it frightening there are eight counts on the indictment. Made me wonder how many women he had actually raped. It’s probably a lot more…

  3. Cara Post author

    Astrid, my thought is that it’s not some kind of sympathy game, as this comes up all the time in rape cases, but some kind of game where we pretend that the problem with rape is that the rapist cheated on his wife, not that he, you know raped somebody. That’s as much as I’ve managed to deduce over the years, anyway, because if a rapist is married, it almost involuntarily comes up as though the two have absolutely anything to do with one another. It seems that the supposed connection in the minds of reporters is “sex.”

  4. SunlessNick

    And as you pointed out, the article doesn’t acknowledge him as a rapist anyway. As far as it’s concerned, these were “affairs” – to which marital status would be relavent – and this despite clear descriptions of coercion.

  5. speedbudget

    I think of the marital and kid status thing much like how journalists writing articles about male aggression or violence feel the need to mention the perpetrator was Christian. They say it in a kind of “who would have thought” way, like being Christian automatically means you’re a good, pious person who would never commit a crime just by virtue of being Christian.

    The marital status idea goes back to the Victorian ideal of womanhood as a civilizing force on men, so it’s kind of a backdoor way to comment on his wife’s abilities to perform her womanly duty. A wife’s job is to curtail the man’s urges, since we all know men are hapless creatures at the mercy of their hormonal whims.

  6. Pingback: Off-Duty Cis Cop Allegedly Assaults Trans Woman, But She’s The One Who Is Charged — The Curvature

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