After a horrifying incident last year in which a young woman was reportedly raped while in custody by two on duty NYPD officers, legislation has been introduced to close the loophole that allowed the officers to claim the acts were consensual.
Anna Chambers, who was 18 at the time, accused two NYPD officers of detaining her and then raping her in their van last September. The officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, pleaded not guilty to charges of rape, claiming that the sex with Chambers was consensual, despite her being in custody at the time. Martins and Hall were fired, but a trial date hasn’t been set.
A Buzzfeed News report from earlier this year revealed that 35 states had similar loopholes in their laws which would allow on-duty officers to claim that sex with a detainee was consensual. “Of at least 158 law enforcement officers nationwide charged since 2006 with sexual assault, sexual battery, or unlawful sexual contact with somebody under their control, at least 26 have been acquitted or had charges dropped after claiming that defense,” Buzzfeed writes.
Already, since Buzzfeed’s story, New York, Maryland, Kansas, and New Hampshire have passed laws prohibiting officers from having sex with detainees. The new legislation, introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, and Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican, would attempt to close this loophole on a federal level.
“Law enforcement members wield incredible power in their ability to detain individuals,” Speier said in a statement. “Our bill ensures that police will act accordingly in their official duties, as befitting their role as officers of the law, and that any such abuse of this power will not be tolerated.”
The proposal, which was introduced in the US House of Representatives, is called the Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act. It seeks to incentivize more legislatures to follow suit by promising money through Violence Against Women Act grants to states that pass such laws and that submit data to the Department of Justice on how often local officers are accused of sexual misconduct.
As federal law stands, only prison guards are explicitly barred from having sex with detainees. The proposal would set prison sentences of up to 15 years for any federal law enforcement officers, such as FBI and ICE agents, who have sex with someone in custody.
This is a good time for a new law putting restrictions like these on federal officers. ICE officers, when they aren’t imprisoning children, have been accused of systematic sexual abuse. Until this bill passes, ICE could claim the same defense as the NYPD officers in Chambers’ case.