On September 25, 2010 a young woman went to her best friend’s house for a party after a college football game. After falling asleep on his couch for several hours she woke up to him doing unspeakable things to her. Out of fear, she pretended to remain unconscious. After he was done and had left the room, she grabbed her belongings and bolted for the door. He proceeded to chase after her. Because of the extreme physical pain and shock she was in, she decided to call her mother to take her to the nearest hospital. Even fifteen months after the incident she could not go to the police. This is the true story of Allison Huguet.
Rape has become a growing issue, but as a result, some people have begun to discuss it. Instead of dismissing it. This isn’t extremely common, but there are investigators and detectives that do dismiss, blame or neglect rape victims. In an article entitled, Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers like Contagion it is said that “there have been more than 85,000 law enforcement officers that have been investigated or disciplined for acts of misconduct over the past decade” (Wu). That is roughly 8,000 cases per year. This is a problem that doesn’t just affect rape victims, especially with the rise of police brutality in major cities. Why hasn’t internal affairs been notified that the police system must be reformed?
Women’s Center, Rape Culture is defined as an environment in which rape is prevalent, where sexual violence is normalized, excused, or simply dismissed in the media and popular culture. This ideology underlines that people must begin to talk about how they collectively think about rape. Unfortunately, Rape Culture is still evident to this day. In fact, as Sohaila Abdulalai, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape describes, in India the victims of rape are called “zinda laash” or in other words, living corpses (Abdulali 51). This very phrase emphasizes the very being of Rape Culture: that after someone is raped they are lifeless, virtueless, and useless. The bottom line is that the victim remains the least important factor (Abdulali 51). This is not okay. Women—victim or not—should be valued and listened to no matter what it is they have to say. But in the police system that is not even a thought. According to Jan Jordan, member of the Institute of Criminology and professor of Psychology, Culture, and Gender Studies, American laws, courts and police systems all evolved within patriarchal conditions that were oriented toward the preservation of gender inequalities (Jordan 12). This begs the question, should we presume the alleged assaulters as innocent until proven guilty or liable, or should we presume survivors tell the truth until their accounts have been disproven? (Fielding). The difficult controversial air of whether or not to believe rape victims or alleged rapists is problematic, especially when it affects someones entire life, career or well-being.
Police Misconduct is a major issue in many rape cases, examing what misconduct looks like in the law enforcement environment is neccessary to address the issue. In late 2012, a woman named Erica Kinsman came forward and told her story. She had been raped by Jameis Winston– a big-time college football player for Florida State. They had met at a bar, and on being invited back to Winston’s apartment, he forced himself onto Kinsman. The accusation of a well-known college football player caused a major uproar in the football community, in support of the alleged rapist and on the other hand, the few that supported Kinsman. In a Sports Illustrated article entitled, Don’t Stay in School- Jameis Winston should quit Florida State- and not just the football team, author Michael McCann seems to be on the side of Kinsman, but after a quick glance at the first column it was clear that the writing was littered with rape culture. Why is Winston still enrolled in college? By leaving school, Winston would evade the university’s jurisdiction and lawfully frustrate an investigation that threatens his future (McCann 13). This otherwise harmless sentence outwardly defends and protects the alleged rapist. Jameis Winston raped a fellow student. There was absolutely no discussion of the effects on the survivor–Kinsman–in the article, in fact she was never mentioned by name. Simply called the “accuser” Instead of using more neutral terms, such as presumed victim, the negative conotation of the word accuser sends the message that Kinsman is a liar. The author continues to worry about Winston’s future, Quitting college could have negative consequences for him. It might be interpreted as an admission of guilt (McCann 14). As if others believe this football player raped someone is his biggest problem. The most frustrating part of all is that Fox Sports suggested that the Tallahassee police department and Florida State badly, and possibly intentionally, mishandled the accusation in order to free Winston of repercussions (McCann 13). Even the slight chance of police officers purposely messing up a rape case to protect the alleged rapist is absolutely unacceptable. And most notably, almost a year later, law enforcement declined to charge him (McCann 14). Most do not know that the decision to take a rape case to court is not one of the victims. Again, the victim is the least important factor.
Other major issues on the topic of rape are underreporting and attrition. Rape has been described as the most under-reported crime, with factors contributing to its low reporting rate like the victims fear of not being believed or the lack of confidence in the criminal justice systems (Jordan 3). This causes a problem for the police because they are not viewed in a positive light. Sadly, this law enforcement-community relationship hasn’t been well for many years. In the 1980s, people began to realize the horrible environments within which rape victims were interviewed. As well as the disgraceful interrogatory style of questioning to which they were routinely subjected (Jordan 4). Police have been using unmannerly ways to question rape victims for years and this practice causes rape culture and victim blaming to invade the brains of victims. Until they begin to normalize it. Perhaps this is why reporting rates of rape are so incredibly low. Because of the dark history between rape victims and the police, it is not all a surprise that roughly 90% of rapes go unreported (Jordan 4). Action must be taken in order to reverse the heavy relationship that has built up among many victims and the people they interacted with in police departments. In the United Kingdom, analysis conducted for the Home Office of a large data set indicated that the conviction rate for reported rape cases had been declining, in 2002 reaching an all-time low of 5.6% (Jordan 5). Attrition goes hand in hand with the issue of underreporting. Attrition is the slow weaning out of something. This term applied to rape is one of the reasons why there is such distrust between rape victims and police. A growing trend in rape cases is that of reports of rape just being set aside and forgetten. Victims may see it as pointless to have to relive their rape in telling it to the authorities if their cases will just be ignored or neglected. High attrition rates in rape cases have attracted international concern and criticism in recent years (Jordan 5). It makes the entire situation even worse that many women do not report if they are raped, and when they do their cases are senselessly neglected.
One of the most obvious causes of police misconduct is a lack of training, or simply training police so that they may acquire the knowledge that is unnecessary. Who knows what training hours are spent on, but it certainly is not used properly. The most obvious cause of these issues is “The lack of training in police facilities.”(Abdulali 51). Sometimes it is as if these officers do not possess any basic manners at all. In 2006, in New York a young woman, age 21 went missing and when her mother -Carmichael- called the local precinct she was responded to with a blatant “Your daughter is probably with her boyfriend.”(qtd. in Arinde 6). The officer had no idea whom they were speaking to, they made the easiest assumption and dismissed the problem at hand. They even refused to file a missing persons report. She was told “‘Miss, please do not call this precinct again.”(qtd. in Arinde 6). This type of disrespect and uncaring is the very reason why the people of America have lost faith in law enforcement. Carmichael stated, “I am very displeased at the way police handled my daughters rape and murder and the way my family was treated after she was found.” (qtd. in Arinde 6). Oftentimes we see police as just a collective image of negativity, but in reality police officers are individuals with their own lives. Maybe not all mentally are suited for such a job.
Some of the worst police misconduct cases involve a complete lack of common sense, kindness or humanity. Protocol in these situations is often neglected. In the well-known Central park Jogger case, where five adolsecent boys were covicted of the rape and murder of an adult woman the leaders of the investigation ended up profitting from the boys’ demise. Fairstein and Lederer made extreme errors in the pursuit of the Jogger Five, who knew while they were investigating and prosecuting that the boys were innocent. They were railroaded because of their race and were coerced to admit to a crime they never committed (Tatum 12). This is just one of the examples of gross misconduct in the police system. It is even worse to think of the people that have been put away for years for a crime they did not commit– or worse– put to death. When Carmichael interacted with the local police precinct she was treated unspeakably. Eventually When they found her daughter’s body, the police were nowhere to be seen. After calling the precinct, it became apparent the police wouldn’t be arriving due to understaffing and perhaps negligence, so the family went. (qtd. in Arinde 6). Even the idea of someone’s family going to collect their relative’s disfigured body is horrifying. The police act as a barrier between the family and such experiences, but why can’t they just do their job correctly? It’s truly ironic, The day Carmichael found her child’s body there weren’t more than two cars present; the day Charles Barron, Rev. Sharpton’s office and Carmichael held a protest, there were over 20 police cars (qtd. in Arinde 6). This phrase uttered by Carmichael is filled with disgust, that her daughters life was not valuable enough in the eyes of the police, but when people come together in a peaceful protest that is seen as a crime and police flock at the scene of innocence searching for issues.
Misconduct in rape cases throughout the police system has hurt numerous and will continue to be a burden on the hearts of many. The police system and its mess of misconduct in rape investigations have to be resolved. Change must be enacted before a solution can even be looked at. As Jordan wisely spells out: reporting rates need to rise, attrition rates need to decline, agencies supporting rape victims should be adequately funded, and rape culture and victim-blaming must cease to exist to the furthest extent possible (Jordan 12). If America as a nation can come together despite its differences and improve the police system, people may have their faith in law enforcement restored. But it is rather unlikely that this will happen, as for the public opinion of police as of recently has not been positive. Rape victims do not feel comfortable in the environment of interrogation rooms, the cases they hold dear to their hearts are being set aside and forgetten, and yet, Ameicans continue to frown upon rape victims and blame them for a crime that was comitted against them. This change will not happen today. It will take time.
Thankfully there have been examples of resolution in the past, even if they are few and far between. In the Central Park Jogger case the disgrace of investigators left an everlasting scar on the victims of this grand mistake. In an effort to reverse this, writer in the New York Amsterdam News, William A. Tatum argues that New York city should be sued for millions to compensate for the wrongdoing and the years of life lost to incarceration, the falsely accused could never regain (Tatum 12). Although in other’s eyes millions of dollars may sound like vast sum, the five— Steve Lopez, Aton McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise spent fifteen years of their teenage life into adulthood in prison. The Police Department and those in the case who gave false testimony and false information to the DA in order to get a conviction should pay (Tatum 12). Yet another example of what could possibly go wrong: coercion of minors without a guardian present, false testimony, and false information. These five innocent boys were stolen from their families, thrown into prison, and forced to survive on their own. They will never forget. The five men were compensated with nearly four million dollars for their loss. Not as well-known as the jogger five, Carmichael’s story of mistreatment from her local police precinct in New York, strikes a similar cord of longing for something, perhaps “justice from the 67th precinct” (qtd. in Arinde 6). Who knows what shape or form that may take, but Carmichael is not alone in that feeling.
Maybe America needs to listen in on how other countries are taking action. Abdulali explains that people in India are calling for reform through a written petition to their government. The petition recommended police reforms and other obvious steps like changing training protocol, the report went further and suggested systemic alterations to erradicate rape culture and protect women (Abdulali 51). India set a wonderful example for sparking change in taking charge of the issue of police misconduct. In the mere act of petitioning the government, India was doing more than America put together. The aforementioned document conveyed the ‘nuances of consent,’ as well as the complexities of deciphering the dynamics of choice and power (Abdulali 51). A possible fix for all of the issues surrounding rape is more education of the topic of consent, not only for High School students but also for police officers. It is possible that if people become more knowledgeable they will be able to interpret whether or not consent was given, taken away or even withheld in the first place. These is the basics of consent, and sadly many investigators lack this knowledge.
To spell it out, the nation needs to take a very specific approach to this problem. This is what should be done: Police should be trained to address their biases, according to German Lopez, writer for Vox (Lopez). It is natural for humans to be biased, but denying admitting to these biases can inversely affect how a police officer does their job. Police should be trained to deal with their biases before they become an officer of the law. Next, when police engage in misconduct, there must be more transparency and accountability in the aftermath of it all (Lopez). The public only hears about misconduct cases involving the police when it is a big deal, otherwise it seems as if reports on the issue are non-existent. Out of all 50 states, 23 states do not open misconduct reports to the public–that is nearly half of the country– and the other 15 states have very limited records. (Lopez). Hiding the issue of police misconduct is not going to solve the issue of police misconduct, if anything it will allow it to progress negatively. Police reports should be open to the public so that people may become aware and use the data to improve the police system. Also, people need to set much higher standards to qualify to be a police officer. (Lopez). At the moment if someone wishes to be a police officer, they must at least have a post-secondary degree and 3 years of continuous law enforcement experience. Then, it would take a total of two months to conclude qualification procedure and testing. According to the MN Board of Peace Officers and Training, the testing is on Minnesota criminal code, traffic code and juvenile justice laws. Apparently, the exam focuses on the information Minnesota law enforcement officers need to know for day-to-day operations. This process is not thorough enough. How exactly does knowing the laws of the state one resides in aid in learning the complex issue of rape and consent, or how to treat a victim?
Reforming the police system is incredibly important because it will benefit all. What downside is there to improving the law enforcement system? If police get this right, they could boost faith in cops and their legitimacy in crime fighting (Lopez). If people begin to belive in the ability of police officers again, the reporting rates of rape could rise, inversely, causing the rates of rape to decrease– that is if the police can do their job and pay more attention to the issue. Honestly, rape deserves just as much attention as homicide, or robbery. In the end, someone’s life is forever altered. The trio of the “procedural justice” model: transparency, accountability and community cooperation, as described as a part of how the police system should work, are all imperative to resolving this issue because they signal that the justice system cares (Lopez). Often times rape victims are belittled, called liars, asked disrespectful or degrading questions, and blamed for a crime committed against them. If the police can be transparent in their actions, be accountable for mistakes and cooperation with those involved in rape cases, then it is possible the future is not as dark as it seems for this issue.