The law is intended to protect us from harm. But what happens when its enforcers are the ones who are committing the crime?
If you ever feel in danger, you’re likely to call the police. However, an accusation becomes more complex when the perpetrator is an officer of the law. Next week, BBC Three travels to America to meet the women tangled up in a growing scandal sweeping the US, for documentary Abused by the Police?.
Abused by the Police? investigates the increasing number of cases of sexual misconduct in the American police force. The documentary gives three young women a voice to tell their harrowing stories for the first time – including a teenager taking on America’s largest force after she said she was raped in a patrol car, and a girl whose alleged rapists claimed the act was consensual.
Here, Woman speaks to journalist Ellie Flynn, who has uncovered a dark truth about America’s boys in blue. Ellie Flynn is an investigative journalist and TV presenter based in London.
“As Anna Chambers held back her tears and described the moment a police officer allegedly sexually assaulted her, I was struck by how young she was. A year earlier, in September 2017, Anna was just 18 when she says she was attacked by officers Eddie Martins and Richard Hall.
“As we stood just metres away from where the incident allegedly happened, this was the first time she’d given a full interview about her harrowing ordeal. I was filming a new documentary for the BBC, and though I’ve worked on some distressing topics in the past, listening to Anna’s story was heart-wrenching, because the men she claimed attacked her were the very ones meant to protect her.
“There were times we had to stop the interview because Anna simply couldn’t go on. Unfortunately, she isn’t alone in her accusations about the police. I spoke to a former police officer and lawyer, Professor Philip Stinson, who was collating data about the scale of the problem.
“He told me that over 10 years, he’d found 2,200 cases of alleged police sex abuse in America. I couldn’t believe it. I thought about their role as law enforcers, our protection, a group of people we’re meant to be able to trust. There are seemingly thousands of women who can no longer envision the police in that way.
“During my time in America, I met with two other women. Jasmine Abuslin, 21, told me she was exploited by police officers for sex from the age of 14. Eventually, four were convicted of sexual unprofessional misconduct and 12 in total were disciplined.
“The third woman I met was too scared to be identified but said she’d also been targeted by two police officers who she says raped her in her own home. They were eventually offered a plea deal, which admitted felony official misconduct but alleged no sexual wrongdoing on their part. They were sentenced to two years’ probation.
“Meeting these women, I was amazed at their strength after having endured something so horrific. But I was also angry – how could anyone feel safe when things like this can happen?
“While we were there, a shocking loophole in New York law was uncovered, which banned sex between correction workers and prisoners, but didn’t specify the police. It was present in many other states, too. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could argue that it’s not wrong for an officer to have sex with someone in their custody. Even if these women’s assault claims weren’t all upheld, with irrefutable evidence – in Anna’s case they found the officers’ DNA inside her body – surely these officers had to be held accountable?
“Thankfully, by the time our filming stopped, that loophole in the law in New York was corrected and it was made illegal for police officers to have sex with someone in their custody. However, it was too late for Anna – because the bill was passed after her case was heard, it wouldn’t change the result. The issue seems widespread in America. The scale of the problem is still unknown and I hope that people will become more aware of an issue that is very under- reported. I hope that the new law challenges attitudes.”
Recent cases of police abuse in the spotlight:
- Weissport Police Chief Brent Getz, 27, was arrested and charged in March after allegedly sexually abusing a girl from the time she was four until she was 11 years old.
- New South Wales police officer Kristian Dieter Glaser, 43, was charged in June with sexual intercourse without consent after he allegedly assaulted a woman while he was on-duty.
- Philadelphia police officer Thomas O’Neill was jailed for a year in July after he violently sexually assaulted a woman in his patrol car while at work.
The facts about police abuse:
- Between 2005 and 2013, police in the US were arrested for 636 instances of forcible fondling, 405 rapes and 219 acts of forcible sodomy.
- On average, a serving USA police officer is arrested for a sex crime every 35 hours.
- America came joint third with Syria for being the most dangerous place for women in terms of sexual violence.
Abused by the Police? is on BBC Three Online, BBC iPlayer and BBC One at 10.35pm on 4 September.