It’s been amply established that the very legal system that is supposed to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is instead rigged against them. In some cases, it’s rigged against them in ghastly ways. In my state of North Carolina, for instance, it is not possible for someone to withdraw consent for sex–meaning that there are actually situations where rape is effectively legal.
Well, an equally perverse situation prevails in a large part of this country. In 34 states and the District of Columbia, a police officer can wriggle out of rape charges by claiming the sex was consensual. No, this isn’t snark. Look at the map.
In the states colored in red, police officers and sheriff’s deputies can legally have sex with someone who is in their custody. The states that potentially give cops one of the most grotesque “get out of jail free” cards in the nation include crimson-red states like Kansas, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, Idaho, and Kentucky. But they also include sapphire-blue states like Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, most of New England, and New York. Incredibly, no state allows corrections officers and probation officers to have sexual contact with a person in their custody. Why are police allowed to do so?
Most states have yet to close this loophole, in part because state legislators are reluctant to push any law that could potentially inflame politically influential police unions. But one outrageous case in New York City could potentially knock scales off eyes.
“Anna Chambers,” a girl from south Brooklyn, found this out the hard way when NYPD narcotics detectives Eddie Martins and Richard Hall pulled her and her friends over last September. They saw weed in their car, cuffed her, and hustled her into a police van where she says they raped her repeatedly for more than an hour before letting her go without so much as a citation. “Anna” claims that before Martins and Hall attacked her, they made her take off her bra to make sure she wasn’t hiding drugs, warned her friends not to follow the van, then made it clear to her that they were going to rape her.
A rape test kit revealed semen from Martins and Hall. They were indicted on charges of rape, kidnapping, bribery, and official misconduct in October, and resigned from the force in November. When Martins and Hall were indicted, “Anna” was naturally elated.
— Anna Chambers (@annaaachambers) October 27, 2017
But then she found out about the economy-size loophole in New York law. If Martins and Hall can convince a jury that the sex was consensual, they will only be charged with official misconduct, which only carries a year in jail.
That loophole also gave Martins and Hall’s lawyers an open door to paint her as a loose woman. It’s happened at least twice before in other cases involving cops accused of rape. In 2007, a cop in Irvine, California was able to convince a jury that a woman who accused him of raping her had actually come on to him to get out of a ticket. And in 2016, a cop in Phoenix admitted having oral sex with a handcuffed woman in his squad car–but walked after claiming she came on to him.
Apparently that effort is already underway. In October, the New York Post learned that Martins and Hall’s lawyers had mined “Anna’s” social media posts for “provocative photos” and other supposed evidence that suggested she was lying. The defense has also flagged tweets that contain any sort of sexual reference, as well as captions referring to her $50 million civil suit against the NYPD. A judge will have to weigh how much of that information can be presented at trial. Even without that to consider, she still faces the prospect of a brutal cross-examination.
In response, New York City councilman Mark Treyger has proposed a law that would ban police officers from having sexual contact with anyone in their custody. The NYPD’s two largest unions have yet to weigh in. Frankly, it’s hard to understand how this is even a debate. After all, above all else, cops are fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and brothers first.
No one should ever have to fear that the very people who are supposed to protect and serve them will wind up raping them. And no one should ever have to fear that they can charge through a loophole to avoid being held accountable.