WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced legislation to prohibit federal law enforcement officers from claiming consent as a defense when accused of sexually assaulting someone in their custody or while exercising their authority under color of law. Over the last year, states including New York, Maryland, Kansas, and Louisiana have enacted legislation closing a loophole that allows law enforcement officers to claim that a sexual encounter with someone in their custody was consensual to avoid assault charges. While there is a federal law that prohibits sexual contact between corrections employees and those in federal custody, no such prohibition exists for other federal law enforcement officers.
Earlier this year, a Buzzfeed report recounted the story of a teenage girl’s struggle for justice after she was raped by two police officers, who were able to claim that she had consented even though she was handcuffed and under arrest when the sexual act occurred.
“Federal agents and law enforcement officers hold positions of public trust and are expected to serve and protect,” Booker said. “Those who abuse their power and this mission by sexually assaulting those in their custody shouldn’t be shielded from accountability because of a loophole in federal law.”
“It isn’t consent when one person is exercising the power of law enforcement and the other is handcuffed, in custody, in the back of a cop car,” Blumenthal said. “This legislation would close a dangerous legal loophole that allows law enforcement officers to claim consent as a defense against accusations of sexual assault and rape.”
“I join my esteemed colleagues, Senators Blumenthal and Booker, in a bicameral solution to the egregious behavior of a few within law enforcement who sexually abuse victims, witnesses, or arrestees under their control. Consent cannot be a defense in these cases,” said U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) who has championed similar legislation in the House of Representatives with U.S. Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA). “From 2005 to 2013, 405 rape charges against law enforcement officers were made. These few rotten apples should not sully the fine reputation of upstanding officers dedicated to protecting and serving the public.”
The Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act would:
Make it a criminal offense for a federal law enforcement officer to engage in a sexual act with anyone in his or her custody or while exercising their authority under color of law, regardless of consent. This would include federal agents, probation officers, judges, and prosecutors.
Provide additional Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant funding to states that pass laws:
· Making it a criminal offense for state and local law enforcement officers to engage in sexual acts with individuals while in his or her custody or while exercising their authority under color of law, regardless of consent; and
· Submit information on the number of complaints made to law enforcement agencies regarding an officer engaging in a sexual act with any individual that meets the above description to the U.S. Attorney General on an annual basis, who will then report to Congress a report on the findings.
The Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act is endorsed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).
“The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence is in strong support of the ‘Closing the Law Enforcement Consent Loophole’ Act, introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Booker. Anyone interacting with law enforcement should expect to be treated with respect, not to become victims of an abuse of power. We thank Senator Blumenthal and Senator Booker and hope that states follow this great example to keep communities safer,” said Terri Poore of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
“RAINN thanks Senator Blumenthal and Senator Booker for working to ensure people are not sexually assaulted while in law enforcement custody. This bill will safeguard people from unacceptable behavior while also reassuring the public of the integrity of the more than one million law enforcement officers who bravely protect and serve every day,” said Scott Berkowitz, President of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.