by Christopher Zoukis
On September 15, 2017, 18-year-old Anna Chambers was taken into custody by two NYPD detectives on suspicion of smoking marijuana. According to Chambers, the detectives handcuffed her, led her into the back of an unmarked van with tinted windows, and raped her repeatedly. About an hour later, the detectives dropped her off, where surveillance cameras captured her slowly pacing up and down a dark street with her arms wrapped around her chest.
After borrowing a cellphone and calling friends, Chambers and her mother went to the hospital and reported the assault. A rape kit came back positive for semen from detectives Eddie Martins, 37, and Richard Hall, 33, two Brooklyn narcotics cops. Both Martins and Hall have been charged with rape, kidnapping, bribery, and official misconduct and have resigned from the force. The former cops also face a federal civil rights lawsuit by Chambers.
Given the fact that their DNA was found inside the teenager, Martins and Hall are not denying a sexual encounter. Instead, they are mounting a defense that has shocked the nation: They claim that the sexual activity was consensual, and therefore they did nothing wrong.
New York is, in fact, one of 35 states where a person detained by armed police can “consent” to sex while in custody. According to a BuzzFeed investigative report, this loophole has allowed dozens of police officers to evade any liability for sexual contact with a detainee. In New York, if a cop is successful with a consent defense, the most he or she can face is a misdemeanor “official misconduct” charge.
Sex between detainees and prison guards has long been prohibited across the nation. Laws that govern these situations make it clear that a detainee can never consent to sex with a jailer. But those same rules often don’t apply to police officers who have sex with those in their custody.
In Arizona, for example, it was legal for a police officer to have “consensual” sex with a detainee prior to 2016. According to the BuzzFeed report, Phoenix officer Timothy Morris successfully used this defense to avoid liability for an admitted episode of oral sex with a handcuffed woman in his custody. Morris said that she had seduced him.
Arizona has closed this loophole, and it is now illegal for a cop to have sex with a detainee under any circumstance. Oregon did the same in 2005, as did Alaska in 2013. And New York City Council member Mark Treyger has proposed such a law in response to Chambers’ ordeal.
“Our laws regarding sexual consent must be brought into line with basic common sense, empathy, and human decency,” wrote Treyger in a Medium blog post.
This is especially true in the case of police officers. An Associated Press report in 2015 found that 990 police officers lost their badges between 2009 and 2014 due to sexual assault. And sexual assault is one of the most reported forms of police misconduct, second only to excessive force. Terra Burns, an advocate who has worked to expand police sexual assault laws, said change is long overdue.
“Cultural shifts happen, but what we need to see is a policy shift,” said Burns in the BuzzFeed report. “There’s a long entrenched history of institutionalized rape culture that has to change.”
Sources: buzzfeed.com, snopes.com, feministing.com
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