Why did Virginia’s House Republicans vote against a bill to end a sexual abuse loophole?
As a note to survivors, this article discusses a critical and sensitive issue of sexual abuse and rape so please proceed with that knowledge in mind.
Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a critical bill to protect abuse victims, and it has received virtually no press. While it sounds like something out of a dystopian future, as of right now it is legal in more than 30 states for police officers to detain a person and then engage in intercourse with the person under arrest.
Through various legal loopholes, police officers can allege consent and exploit the person they just handcuffed and placed into the back of a police car. If you’re only now hearing about this ‘loophole,’ your first reaction is probably the same as mine was when I first learned of it—how is such barbarity even possible?
Unfortunately, because such a practice has not yet been explicitly outlawed, dozens of law enforcement personnel have successfully avoided accountability for sexual assault and rape.
According to a recent report by Buzzfeed News:
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 the encounters were consensual…
Rape is About Power
New York State finally passed legislation to outlaw this practice after an 18-year-old teen accused two police officers of arresting her, putting her in handcuffs, and raping her. After initially pleading not-guilty, both officers Eddie Martins and Richard Hall pleaded guilty to taking the teen girl into custody on a marijuana charge and raping her. As a consequence for raping the teen girl they arrested for marijuana, they received probation and no jail time whatsoever.
Defenders of such barbaric behavior claim providing consent is possible even if a person is in custody and handcuffs. Notwithstanding the absurdity that a law enforcement officer should be pursuing sexual relations with alleged suspects, and while on the clock at that, the claim that consent is possible in this situation is beyond reprehensible.
Rape is, and has always been, about power and control. An armed officer with a person in handcuffs has all the power and control. That 30+ states still have not outlawed this barbaric practice is a reflection on our failure to live up to our Constitutional promise of equal justice for all.
We must do better to uphold justice.
Closing the Sexual Abuse Loophole
Fortunately, states are starting to push back against this injustice. In 2020, Virginia’s Democratic-led House and Senate nearly unanimously passed HB 5045, which makes it a Class 6 felony to engage in “Carnal knowledge of a person detained or arrested by a law-enforcement officer or an inmate, parolee, probationer, arrestee, juvenile detainee, or pretrial defendant or posttrial offender; local or state law-enforcement officer.”
However, up until now no federal law existed to ban this horrid act. Fortunately, last week Representative Jackie Speier (CA-14) introduced, championed, and helped pass “The Closing the Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act.” This bill would make it a “criminal offense for officers such as those in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to engage in any sexual activity with anyone in their custody or while exercising their authority as an officer.”
Who Voted Against This?
Tragically, while this bill passed, it was strictly on party lines. Every single House Republican, including Virginia’s Republican delegation of Rob Wittman (VA-1), Ben Cline (VA-6), Morgan Griffith (VA-9), and Bob Good (VA-5), voted against the bill banning law enforcement from arresting and engaging in sex with people in custody.
Undoubtedly, Rep Speier’s bill is a critical step forward to stop a historic injustice and prevent our government from violating the rights of its citizens. While it is an absolute shame that the GOP refused to support this common sense piece of legislation, this bill is another example of why elections matter.
Let us hope that the US Senate passes this critical piece of legislation so President Biden can sign it into law and abolish this barbaric abuse of our fellow Americans on a nationwide scale.
Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and former candidate for US Congress. He resides in Stafford, VA. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.