Oregon Police Officer Confesses to Sexual Violence Against Sex Workers

A mug shot of a presumably white male. He is shot from just below the neck up. He wears a white tee-shirt and has very short hair.Trigger Warning for descriptions of sexual violence, specifically sexual violence against sex workers.

Continuing in an unfortunately long line of stories about police officers using their state power as a means to commit sexual violence against women, comes this one out of Oregon. An officer named Joshua Jensen (left) was alleged to have forced two women, both sex workers, to perform oral sex on him while he was on duty.

When Joshua Jensen twice arranged to meet a prostitute in a Beaverton parking lot for sex, neither woman knew he was a cop until he showed up in uniform and ordered them behind a garbage container, investigative reports show.

Both women said they were upset and felt they had to go with the officer.  

“When he first took me back behind the Dumpster … my hands were shaking,” one of the victims told The Oregonian Wednesday.

“I was scared – his whole demeanor was very intimidating,” she said. “I really didn’t know what to expect or what would happen.”

In the first incident, Jensen told the woman what she was doing as a prostitute was wrong. Then he asked for oral sex. She asked if she had to, and he said she didn’t. Afterward, he paid her $40.

But with the second woman, Jensen asked her why he shouldn’t arrest her. She replied that she wouldn’t do it anymore.

He said, “Well, if there’s something I want out of it,” then unzipped his pants, reports show.

The woman told investigators and The Oregonian that Jensen then “grabbed me by the back of the head and forced my head down, and I really didn’t have a choice.”

The good news is that Jensen has pleaded guilty. The bad news is that what he pleaded to doesn’t quite add up with the details presented above:

Jensen, 25, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of prostitution, two counts of official misconduct and one count of coercion, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He was not charged with a sex crime and will not have to report as a sex offender when he is released.

Um, what? I’m sorry, how exactly is this not a sex crime?

Detectives who investigated the case were considering first-degree sodomy and first-degree sexual abuse, both Measure 11 crimes, police reports show. Those charges require evidence of “forcible compulsion,” said prosecutor Roger Hanlon. Based on the evidence, he said, “he didn’t commit those crimes.”

Forcible compulsion requires an expressed or implied physical threat, Hanlon said. Coercion occurred because of his implied threat to arrest the victim if she didn’t perform the sex act, he said.

“He didn’t force them, but he certainly coerced them,” Hanlon said. “He didn’t threaten to kill them or hurt them, but there was this element of coercion.”

Look, I’m ambivalent right now about categorizing sexual violence via forcible compulsion and sexual violence via coercion as two different levels of criminal offense, though I think the often blurry line between coercion and force creates a strong argument against. What I don’t see any argument whatsoever for, though, is not even classifying sexual violence via coercion as a sex crime.

Because coercion is not consent. And sex without consent is rape. So this, as described, and as Jensen apparently confessed to, is rape. It is rape. Further going back to that often blurry line between force and coercion — again, neither of which count as consent — I think there’s a strong argument to be made that a man ordering you to perform a sex act on him while he has a gun strapped to his hip and a badge saying that he can arrest you anytime he likes very much crosses it. And while I don’t exactly expect prosecutors to recognize as much, contrary to what Hanlon expresses up above, the threat of arrest is a threat of force and violence, especially when the threat is made against someone marginalized and particularly at risk for police violence, like a sex worker.

There are, it seems, at least two things going on here.[1. I say “at least” because other identifying details about the victims that may be playing a role, such as race, are unknown to the public, in order to protect their identities.]

The first is the often special treatment that police officers who commit crimes receive at the hands of the judicial system. Sadly, with all of the victim-blaming and rape apologism in the legal system, it’d be absurd to suggest that “anyone else” who committed such a crime would receive harsher treatment. But it is probably safe to say that most people who committed such a crime,  saw their case progress to the point of charges being pressed, and then confessed, would in fact probably receive harsher treatment, and would have been charged with a sex crime and been given a longer sentence. This is in spite the fact that law enforcement officials who commit acts of violence while on the job should be held to much higher standards than the average civilian, what with their positions of enormous power and role in representing the government. And yet, the legal system cares a lot more about protecting its own than it does with ensuring that the state doesn’t represent fear and violence.

Just as important and influential in these cases is that unique brand of misogyny reserved specifically for female sex workers. While the victim-blaming doesn’t seem explicit in this case, from what’s being reported, a lot of victim-blaming tropes are poking their heads out. The two most notable among them are the myth that a victim who has had consensual sex with her attacker previously cannot be raped by him at a later date, and that a sex worker cannot be raped at all. While it doesn’t seem that either the prosecution or defense has directly made either of these arguments — and thank god for small favors — it’s difficult to believe that in spite of their exceedingly common nature, they’re not playing a role here.

It’s next to impossible to honestly look at a case in which all evidence suggests that two women who do sex work were raped by a man who had previous paid them for sex, and think that these misogynistic, victim-blaming, sex worker phobic myths had nothing to do with the decision to not charge the perpetrator with a sex crime. All women are at some risk of this level of atrocity, but some of us more than others — and it’s difficult to think that there is an equal likelihood of this happening to a woman who does different work. It’s hard to believe that for most other women, the standard for force would just as readily be placed so high.

One of the two known victims told the Oregonian that she is upset with how the case was handled, and says that she continues to fear for her safety. And why shouldn’t she, when prosecutors have devalued her safety so much that they won’t admit it was ever at risk to begin with?

via Woman Undefined, h/t SAFER

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