In response to someone claiming her reports of harassment have been cavalierly dismissed by police, tumblr user Brazenautomaton wrote:
Crimes with female victims are more likely to be investigated, prosecuted, and result in conviction. Period. Across the board. This is another thing made up by a person whose only knowledge of reality is what feminism says about how the police will never help. (You notice how feminism is the one working hardest to ensure women never report crimes to the police?) Police do not “ignore gendered violence.” That can’t even be a matter of opinion or interpretation.
Of course, it is true that feminists have been advocating for police to take reports of sexual violence more seriously, and this has led to some improvements – but Brazenautomaton’s claims here are both extreme and unsupported by evidence.
I’m interested, not in the specific case Brazenautomaton is responding to,1 but in the general principle Brazenautomaton lays out: “Police do not ignore gendered violence. That can’t even be a matter of opinion or interpretation.” I’ve seen people make similar claims before, which makes a general response worthwhile.
In fact, even with feminist-inspired reforms, there are documented cases – and many, many more cases that can’t be proven – involving police dismissing even rape cases out of hand. (Cases that fall short of rape are even more likely to be treated this way, I’d assume.)
From the abstract to an article in Iowa Law Review:
During the last two decades, many police departments substantially undercounted reported rapes creating “paper” reductions in crime. Media investigations in Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis found that police eliminated rape complaints from official counts because of cultural hostility to rape complaints and to create the illusion of success in fighting violent crime. The undercounting cities used three difficult-to-detect methods to remove rape complaints from official records: designating a complaint as “unfounded” with little or no investigation; classifying an incident as a lesser offense; and, failing to create a written report that a victim made a rape complaint.
Here’s one rape victims’ description of how police treated her report:
“They started making it seem like I had cheated on my boyfriend, got pregnant and wanted to hide it,” … The woman stopped cooperating, and police classified the case as “unfounded,” meaning they found the woman’s report to be baseless.
Then the man who raped her was arrested for a different rape, and DNA tests proved he had raped her.
But that woman was lucky compared to this woman, who was actually arrested (and basically had her life destroyed) for making a rape report, when police browbeat her until she changed her story.
[Officer] Rittgarn asked Marie what was going on. Marie said she really had been raped — and began to cry, saying she was having visions of the man on top of her. She wanted to take a lie detector test. Rittgarn told Marie that if she took the test and failed, she would be booked into jail. What’s more, he would recommend that Project Ladder pull her housing assistance.
Marie’s name was eventually cleared when the man who raped her, who raped at least five other women after the police coerced Marie’s false confession, took photos of the rape. Not a single officer who worked on Marie’s case was ever disciplined.
The Village Voice showed, with secret audio tapes and the testimony of cops, that NYC cops routinely “downgraded” serious crimes to make their statistics look better – including rape, and including rapes committed by a serial rapist.
An article from the New York Times about a rape case in Florida, involving a star football player:
As she gave her account to the police, several bruises began to appear, indicating recent trauma. Tests would later find semen on her underwear. … Aan examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university. … A lawyer for Mr. Winston’s accuser, said the police investigator who handled the case, Scott Angulo, told her that because Tallahassee was a big football town, her client would be “raked over the coals” if she pursued the case.
Another case, combining misogyny and ableism: 15-Year-Old Girl Raped, Police Dismiss the Case Because Victim and Attackers Have “Low IQs”
According to the police report, one of the boys repeatedly banged her head against the table while the other two forced her to give them oral sex and then tried to have forcible anal sex with her. In interviews with the police, the girl explained how she repeatedly said “no” and “stop” but that the boys continued to assault her.
The police described this as “a consensual situation.”
Knowing stories like that should make it impossible to dismiss stories like the ones told in this blog post as impossible because “police do not ignore gendered violence.”
Of course we can’t know to a certainty if any particular story is true or untrue without investigation or evidence. And in fact, a “true or untrue” framing often isn’t useful, because stories can be subtantively true while still being wrong in specific details (studies have shown that human recollection is extremely flawed). But a blanket dismissal of the very idea that any police are ever misogynistic, or ever dismiss accounts from victims, is ridiculous.
And that’s not even mentioning stories like this:
The Associated Press uncovered about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault; sex crimes that included possession of child pornography; or sexual misconduct such as propositioning citizens or having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse.
It’s very likely that some of those 1000 officers (and similar officers who haven’t been caught) have, at times in their careers, had to take rape and harassment reports; do we trust that none of these officers would have been inclined to be dismissive?
- Honestly, having read the account Brazenautomaton is responding to, I’d agree that skepticism is warranted in that specific case – but that doesn’t justify the sweeping conclusions Brazenautomaton makes. [↩]
You really can’t believe anything too horrible about the cops and rape victims. If they’ll KILL, does anybody think they’d hesitate to have disgustingly-sexist views of women? I stumbled over a case of a cop named Tom Martin who dismissed a victim much like Marie—-he was scornful of this victim, he demanded she take a polygraph…..and a month later the same man who broke into her apartment raped another woman. Martin himself was arrested several years later for sexually assaulting young girls on duty. (Cops asking rape victims to take polygraphs is a huge honking red warning sign. In the Kanin study, BTW, the police department did demand rape victims and *only* rape victims take polygraphs.)
So, no, I don’t find it hard to believe that the same cops who brazenly murder black men hesitate to either rape vulnerable women, or treat them despicably when other men commit rape themselves.
That second link doesn’t work, by the way.
Thanks for letting me know. :-) I’ve fixed the link.
I don’t think skepticism is warranted in that case at all. I’ve had some extraordinarily nasty experiences with cops myself, including one where I was threatened with arrest because “the way you’re standing is hostile and aggressive.” I’m an ex soldier. Out of long habit I was standing “at ease”—–head up, shoulders back, back straight, hands clasped. To a twentysomething kid with a gun, apparently that “hostile and aggressive and threatening.”
Excellent post Ampersand. Most of my blogging and writing has involved LE issues and police accountability including sexism which impacts the profession in so many ways. It impacts survivors of rape and DV, molestation in everything from reporting crimes to those crimes getting prioritized for investigating including the processing of evidence including rape kits. It involves the treatment of women officers and civilian employees in terms of sexism and how that ultimately impacts the handling of crimes against women and girls especially if they’re not white. It impacts how male officers treat female officers and civilian women including survivors of DV, rape and molestation. Also when the officers commit sexual offenses themselves and the AP did a series of articles on that issue which was more comprehensive than I thought it’d be. It’s also dealing with sexism that intersects with racism, classism, homophobia, immigrant status, ableism and transphobia as well which often compounds the situation.
Not to mention how young women in junior high school and high school are treated by so-called campus safety officers which are LE officers that are assigned to campuses for security reasons. Especially female African-American and Latino students. In one case I covered, a teenaged African-American student was pepper sprayed, sent to Juvie lockup and then body cavity searched b/f her parents even knew what happened to her. She was emotionally traumatized and never charged with any crime. Many public high schools with large “minority” populations also have probation officers there as well. Usually the school district and LE agency/city or county split the costs. I was reading the budget for one program and they actually had a line item for bullets for Glock .40s
It’s a never ending situation in different ways. I remember my city’s PD’s SACA division (Sexual Assault Child Abuse) had issues with prioritizing assigning OT to SACA detectives b/c you know rape/molestation are crimes that don’t adhere to a banker’s schedule. They originally had OT detective assigned and then budget cuts eliminated that So instead of having a SACA detective working OT, they had the OT homicide detective handle both homicides and SACA crimes. Well homicide is going to get priority and I’m not knocking homicide at all because those detectives go through a lot including upheaval to their families to do what they do, that’s a really tough, tough assignment and I do respect that. It’s just that SACA crimes should be addressed by detectives who are experienced at dealing with them b/c the dynamics with them are different than homicide. Plus the vast majority of homicide detectives are male and sometimes female detectives are more effective. And working in SACA I think is also difficult on an emotional level too. why not just provide OT for both? Instead of pitting the two against each other?
It took a lot of pushing to restore just 16 hours/week of SACA OT detective. I had opportunity to get to know some of the SACA detectives when I was covering the prosecution of a police officer for sexual assault under the color of authority and they were very dedicated even though investigating cops for criminal activity isn’t always popular and they educated me a lot on that area and they were very generous. This anecdote is just one example of the problems faced by LE’s investigation of rape and even child molestation.
IN regards to rape kits, my city’s department was awarded a grant to test kits to address the tremendous backlog which is almost universal in LE agencies across the country.
I know both Det. Hopewell who’s also been president of the CA Sexual Assault Investigators’ Assn and her supervisor Lt. Brennan, both now retired. Both very committed to what they do and I hope there’s more like them in LE agencies in the country. I think the grant programs need to be expanded to give LE agencies the resources to deal with the kit backlog b/c too many cities and counties are financially strapped. In fact, my own city might cut back on LE budget and w/o a grant, this is a service that might be cut in response. B/c too often what might benefit women does get cut by cities/counties.
As to LE officers who commit what’s called sexual assault under the color of authority, I covered pre-lims and trials of cases like that and I think this is an area that deserves as much attention at least as nonfatal excessive force cases. I was fortunate enough to learn a lot about it from the DA/LE side from representatives of both. I even had something in my blog used by the prosecutor in his closing arguments. I also met another prosecutor who prosecuted a child molestation case involving one of my city’s police officers and learned a lot from him. The arrest of this particular officer I was tipped off anonymously by someone concerned about it who knew about his arrest and booking so I wrote about it. When I read his arrest warrant and discovered what he’d been charged with, I didn’t feel like I had a choice in the matter but to make it public. He was convicted in the first trial, had his convictions thrown out on appeal (due to unfortunate testimony on his IA jacket) and then when retried was convicted again.
Attending the trials and writing about them is definitely an education. I got all kinds of POV in all kinds of places doing that. Because what becomes clear is that these sexual assaults on duty aren’t just about the officers who do them but speak to the overall police culture. Really what’s to be said if officers detaining a woman in her home play with her underwear by hooking it on each other’s belts b/f putting it on a dartboard in front of her. Hours later, she alleged she was forced to orally copulate one of the officers to prevent her arrest. He was convicted of that crime. But what role did that previous behavior play into it?
To add I was reading about the hiring practices of small LE agencies in southern states and smaller agencies don’t have deep pools in terms of recruiting officers at all. A couple registered sex offenders were hired by two LE agencies in the South including one in Alabama. Where’s the discussion on that? With financial cuts, many LE agencies are tempted to cut corners with background checks but if you don’t do that right, how do you really know what you’re hiring?
So many issues here, so little space and time. Just my perspective.
I’m honestly boggled that anyone could think sexism by police is a solved problem. Is sexism in ANY male-dominated occupation a solved problem? It has particularly obvious consequences coming from police, but it’s not like lawyers, software developers, scientists, military servicemembers, or construction workers, to name a few other male-dominated occupations, have solved sexism in their ranks.
In the course of being a street medic, I encounter a lot of cops, who fall all along the spectrum of good to bad. I’ve been street harassed by cops, and called diminutive names like “sweetie.” I know an activist who had a plainclothes cop put an arm around her shoulders during a march. I know someone, personally, who was arrested after she pulled her arm away from a cop who started stroking it. I’ve seen a cop tell a female protester that if she didn’t stop having such a big mouth, no man would ever want to marry her. There was a column in the police union newsletter here a few years ago claiming that homeless men were going to the Occupy Boston camp because “liberal college girls” would sleep with them, and another column comparing sex with an Egyptian woman to sex with a corpse. But police sexism is a solved problem?
Police families are more likely to experience domestic violence than other families, and police who get violent with family members usually receive few to no consequences over it (see link), and yet, the person you’re responding to thinks police don’t ever ignore gendered violence?
I might have linked this here before, I can’t recall, but it’s worth a read. It’s about how even well-meaning cops are often inappropriately dubious about accounts of sexual violence – most of which are being reported by women or female-presenting people – because they don’t understand the basics of the neurobiology of trauma, and how they engage in behaviors that retraumatize the person making the complaint because they don’t know any better. Fortunately, people like the woman at that link are working on training police about this.
I’m kind of surprised you find that person’s report (i.e., the original tumblr post) of what happened to them unbelievable, but at least you had the honesty to acknowledge you cannot know, because all you have is an anonymous report online.
So I’ll be honest too: while I do find the report believable, I can’t know either.
I do think either position can be defended. As for brazenautomaton’s certainty that the report is wrong, it can only come from a very dark place inside them. I feel sorry for those who have to interact with brazenautomaton in RL.
I wonder how much the dynamic we are talking about is “police handle sexual assault poorly” vs. sexism writ-large? So, it might be simultaneously true that police take crimes against females more seriously as a general trend, and still be true that they treat sexual assault victims horribly far too often.
Of course the broad point, that statistics and trends have little to do with any individual case is valid regardless.
In my brain’s possibly-only-I-parse-words-this-way vocabulary, “unbelievable” is a much stronger judgement than “skepticism is warranted”; unbelievable is a conclusion, while skepticism is acknowledging that you can’t make a conclusion yet. The person’s account could completely be true. But I also wouldn’t be shocked if it turns out to be exaggerated or even untrue.
But, in my view, it’s sort of besides the point what I think about the specific case, and I haven’t given it a lot of thought. Because I’m not an investigating officer or an official at a con or anyone whose view matters at all. If I were one of those people, however, I’d have an obligation to investigate without assuming that the person’s story is false; and the problem is, too often that doesn’t happen.
Yes, I agree.
Heh. Mrs. Squid and I were just talking about exactly this thing last night. While I felt that the phrase you’re referring to is a sure sign of misogyny, Mrs. Squid just felt that there was something wrong with that use but also that it’s difficult to find a term that feels right due to a number of factors. But Mrs. Squid is a far more tolerant person than I am.
I think that’s part of it. There’s another effect which goes something like “crimes [of violence] by men against women are taken more seriously when police believe they happened, but, as in other areas of our society, women are considered less reliable reporters of what happened to them than men” (a problem which is worst for sexual assault). So, if the police believe a woman was raped, or if the police believe a woman’s boyfriend beat her up, they’ll go after the perpetrator harder than they might for somebody who beat up or raped a guy; but female victims are also more likely to get “well, he says you agreed to have sex” or “well, he says it was just a misunderstanding and you both hit each other.” (There are also problems of belief, or appropriate judgment of severity, when the perpetrator’s a woman.)
It’s kind of the madonna/whore thing. Women are pure creatures to be protected or else they really, really aren’t. If a woman’s the right kind of victim, yes, the police will go after her attacker with unusual force, but you’re mistaken if you think all women are the right kind of victim. That applies to more than sexual assaults. I don’t think that’s at all unique to police, but it’s very weird to say the police are uniquely free of that prejudice in our society.
I think, no matter the crime, initial credulity on the part of the officer is going to play at least some part in the outcome of investigation and adjudication. Some of this will be tied to pre-existing narratives that the officer has absorbed, whether they are taught by the department or arrived at independently.
I don’t have statistics, but I imagine that the narrative of “female sexually assaults male”, whatever the actual incidence of that crime, is not going to fit well into most officers expectations. So when that crime does occur, it may be even less likely to be believed at first. Note, this isn’t a statement about rate of incidence, but whether, given the crime occurs, the complaint is taken seriously.
Sexual assault seems especially hard to prosecute in general, because consent is, unlike almost any other crime, the sole arbiter and evidence of whether a crime occurred. I have to think that plays some role in why the judicial system approaches the crimes in such a poor manner at times.
I don’t think it has to suggest misogyny on the part of the speaker? But I think it is a misogynist use, especially at this point.
I am more or less the right kind of victim if I happen to be raped by a stranger in an alley (married, white, middle to upper middle class), but I could easily not have that status in other circumstances.
Bear — I think women who report rape are seen as potentially crazy or hysterical, whereas men who report rape by women are seen as complaining about nothing. Cuz why would a man object to sex with a lady, right? (Ugh, it’s awful to even type.) Or, alternately, depending on the type of rape, it’s seen as sufficiently emasculating that he should have been able to defend himself.
The latter comes in large part from an expectation that women are like children, not fully human or possessed of agency. How can you be raped by a child? Surely you could hold her off until she’s ready to accept a pacifier. But like many swords, that double edge has a wicked point.
I think the predominant sexual assault narrative, that is thought of as clear and unambiguous, is one of force. The fact that many/most sexual assaults don’t involve direct application of force leads, I think, directly to the agency problem you refer to. Women are regarded as, and in most individual cases will be, less physically strong than men.
Given that incorrect narrative, that the assault must be enabled by force, I don’t think one necessarily has to go all the way down the line to “women have no agency” or “men always want sex”.
I live in Tallahassee, where this happened. I have no idea if he raped her or not, but I know that a quick way to to find yourself under siege here is to say too loudly that this FSU hero was anything but a Boy Scout.
I think what you’re saying is true, but I also think you’re being a little unfair. You’re responding to a troll’s assertion that a cop’s conclusions about this or that sex crime should not be second guessed. And you make a really good case for why people shouldn’t blindly accept law enforcement’s narrative. But you conclude by suggesting that the investigating officer might conceivably have committed a sex crime himself at some point in his life and therefore should not be trusted? It reminds me of Trump’s “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” line.
This is interesting in that it frames this discussion in the context of a larger patriarchal culture dismissive of the agency of women. Since U.S. rape laws are based on consent, if women were seen as childlike then they would also be seen as unable to give consent.
Has it been proven that the denial of women’s agency comes from considering them childlike? I’ve always thought (and it makes more sense to me for a variety of reasons) that it came from women being supposed to be passive. Women don’t do things, they have things done to them, therefore nothing a woman did can make an impact… Or so the reasoning goes.