Let’s Take a Closer Look at the Viral Claim That Police Can Legally Have Sex With Detainees in 35 States

Let’s Take a Closer Look at the Viral Claim That Police Can Legally Have Sex With Detainees in 35 States

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Recently outraged social media users have begun circulating a U.S. map purporting to show 35 states with laws allowing cops to have sex with people in their custody. But a slightly closer look at these police sex laws shows that the map’s wording is somewhat misleading even if it still points to a serious legal loophole that needs closing.

The map accompanied a Feb. 7, 2018, Buzzfeed story about two New York police officers who allegedly raped a teenage detainee. The story said, “In New York, there is no law specifically stating that it is illegal for police officers or sheriff’s deputies in the field to have sex with someone in their custody.”

The story explained, “It is one of 35 states where armed law enforcement officers can evade sexual assault charges by claiming that such an encounter — from groping to intercourse — was consensual.”

The map accompanying Buzzfeed’s article (below) stated, “Laws in 35 states allow cops to have sex with someone in their custody,” but that’s slightly inaccurate.

Buzzfeed’s map of police rape laws

The myth-busting site Snopes has said the 35 states lack laws specifically banning sex between police and detainees. That is, the laws don’t allow it, they just don’t specifically forbid it.

This may seem like a minor semantic point, but it’s important because the 35 states in the map above all have legislation forbidding non-consensual sex between anyone. In fact, the New York officers accused of raping the teenage girl were subsequently charged with rape.

However, some police officers have evaded rape charges in the past by claiming that detainees seduced them and that any sex was consensual.

The website Feministing explains why consensual sex between police and detainees is impossible. “A person in police custody can’t give genuine consent, free from coercion,” writes Sejal Senghal. “Not to armed police officers who have the power to arrest them if they say no.”

The Cato Institute says sexual assault is the second-most reported form of American police misconduct, after excessive use of force. Thus, all states need police sex laws that explicitly ban sex by on-duty workers in positions of power, full stop.


Featured image by LukaTDB via iStock

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