Nuggets of Wisdom

Friday, May 24, 2013

How Police Get Away With Rape

Normally, I roll my eyes when I hear feminists decry America as a "rape culture." Considering how rape is considered a heinous crime in this country, and how sexual assault rates have declined over the decades, our country hardly constitutes a rape culture--as opposed to third world countries like the Congo, where rape is so prevalent it's considered part of their culture.

However, there are places in our country where rape culture exists. For one, there's our prison system, where male prisoners are raped so often, that when prison rapes are figured into rape statistics, men, on average, are raped more often than women. And then there's our military, where women soldiers are frequently raped, with their rapes often going unpunished and unreported.

But perhaps the most egregious example of rape culture occurs within our own justice system. Police officers, who are supposed to serve and protect the public, have not only sexually-assaulted women, but have gotten away with it. Such is the case with this one example:
When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad news—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun. That scared her enough that she immediately reported what he’d done to the police,  according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Another four years passed before the department arrested Skweres and suspended him without pay, and then only because he tried to rape a woman while on duty. By that time, Smith had moved out of the city for fear of running into him again. Three other women told stories similar to Smith’s, and on March 11 Skewers pleaded guilty to bribery, indecent assault, and other charges.
As with most cases of police abuse and brutality, this is hardly an isolated incident. Reports of police officers sexually harassing and assaulting women, often taken under their custody, occur frequently, almost on a weekly basis.

But more often than not, these incidents go unreported, with the officers in question going unpunished, facing no consequences for their crime, and if they do suffer consequences, it's often a slap on the wrist like being placed on administrative leave.

Because these rapes often go unreported, they are hard to track, but rough estimates can be made by tracking news articles. And even then, the numbers are staggering:
As part of a 2008 study, former police officer Tim Maher, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, asked 20 police chiefs whether police sexual misconduct was a problem; 18 responded in the affirmative. The 13 chiefs willing to offer estimates thought an average of 19 percent of cops were involved—if correct, that translates to more than 150,000 police officers nationwide. An informal effort by the Cato Institute in 2010 to track the number of police sexual-misconduct cases just in news stories counted 618 complaints nationwide that year, 354 of which involved forcible nonconsensual sexual activity like sexual assault or sexual battery.
Now I ask you: should we be the least bit surprised by all of this? Appalled? Yes. But shocked? As with other accounts of police abuse and brutality, hardly!

Like other members of the state, the police are bestowed with the sole privilege of using force and coercion in society, and more often than not, they use that privilege to their own advantage, sometimes to the detriment of others, as with these rapes.

This, of course, is not to say that all police officers are "pigs" or "brutes." Some perform their jobs with integrity, honoring their duty to protect and serve. But anyone paying attention to the abuses in our justice system have to attest that, while not all officers are brutes, most brutes are officers. When you have a job that permits one the power to use force and coercion, don't be surprised when most of the people applying for it are psychopaths wishing to abuse that power.

Revelations like this make me somewhat sympathize with the Occupy movement. Sure, they're unwashed hippies and college dropouts, but they have a point when they claim that one percent of the population exploits the remaining 99 percent. However, I see this dichotomy, not as one of economics, but as one of power; not as divide between rich and poor, but as a divide between the powerful and the powerless. One percent holds power that the 99 percent do not have, and because of this, they are held to completely different standards than the rest of us. When they commit a crime, they receive a slap on the wrist; but when we commit the same crime, we are punished to the full extent of the law. Again, I ask, why even bother calling this a "justice" system? It's more of a "just us" system.

But as much as I consider the current system evil, like Thomas Paine, I consider it a necessary evil. If we insist on a state that wields the power to use force and coercion, that power should be limited to preventing force and coercion among the citizenry. But what happens when that power becomes systematically abused? At that point, we are left with two options: either impose regulations to curtail this abuse of power, or scrap the entire system completely.

Right now, many civil liberty and feminist groups are fighting to place such limits on police abuse, forcing police departments to adopt standards and guidelines on how to deal with such sexual abuse. This I consider to be noble, but as with other attempts to regulate the state, inevitably futile. And if that be the result, what then?