Granting more power to local police to enforce laws like Arizona’s new immigration initiative could be particularly disastrous for women. Trials against two New York City cops that began last Tuesday demonstrate these dangers.
Brooklyn Detective Oscar Sandino faces federal civil rights charges for forcing a woman he arrested to perform oral sex on him in 2008. He then harassed her with phone calls and text messages, threatening to arrest her again if she refused to have sex with him. The NYPD placed Sandino on desk duty when prosecutors began investigating these allegations against him, though this didn’t stop Sandino from forcing a prisoner in central booking into a private room where he “ordered her to lift her shirt while he rubbed himself and made sexual comments.” Sandino also faces charges that he coerced a woman to have sex in 2006.
Former Officer Wilfredo Rosario also began his trial last Tuesday for charges that he sexually abused two women, enticing them with promises of employment and opportunities for their children. Rosario had already been dismissed from the force because he told a woman “he would destroy a summons he was issuing her in exchange for oral sex”. One of Rosario’s victims testified on Tuesday. She didn’t speak English.
Additionally, a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Philadelphia Daily News documents how two reporters discovered that elite narcotics officers were, among many other misdeeds, filing false charges, stealing thousands of dollars from immigrant bodega-owners, and sexually abusing wives or girlfriends of accused drug dealers, most of whom were immigrant women. This report, combined with the stories mentioned above leaves me wondering why any woman would feel comfortable approaching a police officer, much less an immigrant woman who does not speak English.
Most sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement. The most recent study by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick and his colleagues at the Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina – the most highly-regarded researchers in this field – found that, in 2006, U.S. women were subjected to 800,000 forcible rapes, almost 200,000 drug-facilitated rapes, and approximately 300,000 incapacitated rapes, meaning the victim was unable to consent due to ingesting alcohol or drugs. Of these women, only 18 percent of forcible rape victims and 10 percent of drug-facilitated or incapacitated rape victims reported the attack to law enforcement.
This 2006 study correlates with data from methodologically comparable studies conducted in 1991 and 1995. In his 2006 report, Dr. Kilpatrick notes, “There is no evidence that rape in America is a smaller problem than it was 15 years ago, and there is no evidence that women are more willing to report rape cases today than they were 15 years ago.”
Immigrant women are even less likely to report intimate partner violence than their U.S.-born counterparts, because of their precarious status and perceived lack of power. According to Leslye Orloff, Director of Legal Momentum’s Immigrant Women Program, immigrant women are also more likely to be subjected to domestic violence. When questioned about Arizona’s new law Orloff stated, “A proportion may have had the courage to call the police before, but that will disappear.”
Because so few sexual assaults are reported, psychologists have begun to examine the phenomenon of these “undetected rapists.” Research by psychologists like Dr. David Lisak has found that most of these undetected perpetrators are repeat offenders. His 2002 study of 1,882 men at a northeast university found that 6.4 percent (120) of them had self-reported acts that met the legal definition of rape or sexual assault. A majority of these men (63 percent) committed multiple assaults, with an average of 5.8 rapes per repeat offender. These men committed a total of 483 rapes and attempted rapes and 49 sexual assaults, none of which were ever reported. In other words, chances are that these sexually-offending cops committed many more offenses against women who will never come forward.
When questioned by Philadelphia Daily News reporters, Lady Gonzalez, an immigrant woman who disclosed that she was sexually assaulted by a Philadelphia officer stated, “I’m sorry, but why am I going to report this to a police officer when a police officer stood in front of me and molested me?” The recent cases against the New York City officers, as well as the Philadelphia officer – whose assaults, according to one Daily News reporter, were “an open secret” in the department – show just how dangerous giving more power to unsupervised local officials can be, particularly for immigrant women. The question remains: if so few women reported before these cases came to light and before Arizona enacted its draconian immigration law, what woman would ever feel safe reporting now?
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