Sexual Encounters Between Police Officers and Detainees are Never Consensual and Iowa Law Needs to Reflect This

 

By: Rachel Leigh, Vol. 21 Student Writer

Trigger Warning: This post depicts sexual abuse encounters, including rape.

 

Recently, two New York City police officers were charged with the kidnapping and raping of an 18-year-old woman in their custody.[1] The officers had arrested the woman and then allegedly drove her away from the scene and raped her.[2] The officers pled not guilty, claiming that the sexual encounter was consensual.[3] This case exposed an alarming loophole in New York law: police officers can legally have consensual sex with people they detain or arrest.[4] New York lawmakers immediately began taking action to pass legislation that would close this legal loophole.[5]

 

Although it seems probable that states would have laws preventing officers from having sexual encounters with arrestees, the majority of states do not prohibit this. In fact, 35 states, including Iowa, do not have statutes that explicitly label sexual encounters between police officers and detainees as non-consensual.[6] This oversight by lawmakers can be–and has been–detrimental to the application of justice. Between 2005 and 2013, there were over 800 arrests of law enforcement officers for violent sexual crimes in the United States.[7] In Iowa alone, at least ten law enforcement officers have been arrested for sex-related crimes in the last decade.[8]

 

The Iowa statute regarding sexual abuse prohibits sexual misconduct between officers of the Department of Corrections and inmates committed to the custody of the Department, but this section does not include the sexual misconduct between police officers and detainees.[9] This means that victims of police sexual misconduct must pursue claims under the general statute definition of  “any sex act . . . done by force or against the will of the other.”[10] Officers in Iowa are, therefore, able to claim that they had consensual sex with an individual in their custody. For example, one police officer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa admitted to having consensual sexual relations with a woman after he pulled her over for a traffic stop.[11] This officer entered into a plea agreement to avoid jail time.[12] In another instance, a police officer from Muscatine, Iowa was arrested for sexual abuse after having sexual relations with a woman while on duty.[13] The officer had arrested the woman’s boyfriend for operating a vehicle while under the influence and was then returning her to her motel room when the assault occurred.[14] The officer was allowed to claim that the sex was nevertheless consensual.[15] 

 

These cases illustrate the need for the Iowa legislature, and the other 34 state legislatures, to take action and explicitly define sexual encounters between police officers and individuals in their custody as non-consensual. Due to the power imbalance between a police officer and an arrested or detained individual, any sexual encounter between the two would be non-consensual by the very nature of the relationship and should accordingly be treated as such.

 

 [1] Close the Police Rape Loophole, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/police-rape-loophole.html.

[2] Close the Police Rape Loophole, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/police-rape-loophole.html.

[3] Close the Police Rape Loophole, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/police-rape-loophole.html.

[4] Kenneth Lovett, Cuomo Plans to Ban Police Officers From Having Sexual Contact with Detainees, N.Y. Daily News (Feb. 14, 2018), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-plans-bar-cops-sexual-con....

[5] Kenneth Lovett, Cuomo Plans to Ban Police Officers From Having Sexual Contact with Detainees, N.Y. Daily News (Feb. 14, 2018), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-plans-bar-cops-sexual-con....

[6] Close the Police Rape Loophole, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/police-rape-loophole.html.

[7] The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, BGSU, https://policecrime.bgsu.edu/Home/Crimes# (last visited Feb. 22, 2018).

[8] The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, BGSU, https://policecrime.bgsu.edu/Home/Map (last visited Feb. 22, 2018).

[9] Iowa Code Ann. § 709.16. (2015).

[10] Iowa Code Ann. § 709.1. (2015).

[11] Iowa Police Officer Stripped of His Duties After Traffic Stop Sex, Fox News (Jan. 23, 2008), http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/01/23/iowa-police-officer-stripped-his....

[12] Iowa Police Officer Stripped of His Duties After Traffic Stop Sex, Fox News (Jan. 23, 2008), http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/01/23/iowa-police-officer-stripped-his....

[13] State v. Tovar, 871 N.W.2d 127 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015).

[14] Id.

[15] Id.