Systemic problems

Justice Department condemns Baltimore police for mistreatment of women

Tessa Hill-Aston, head of the Baltimore N.A.A.C.P., said women had been “victimized just as much” as black men. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

A scathing report issued this week by the Justice Department on police bias in Baltimore condemned officers, not only for systematically violating the rights of African-Americans, but also for what was described as “grossly inadequate” treatment of women — especially victims of sexual assault. Officers were found to have humiliated women who attempted to report sexual assault, disregarded complaints filed by prostitutes, and discouraged victims from identifying their attackers by asking questions such as, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?” Rape kits, it was found, were tested in only 15 percent of cases involving sexual assault victims. In many cases, police abandoned sexual assault cases altogether without even conducting cursory investigations.

“We have many, many women who will never go to the police about a rape ever again because of the way they’ve been treated,” said Jacqueline Robarge, director and founder of Power Inside, a group that works with victims of gender-based violence and helped provided testimony in the Justice Department’s investigation. In some cases, Robarge added, it was the police themselves who committed the assaults — particularly in cases involving prostitutes, who officers could threaten with arrest in order to coerce favors. Deep insensitivity from police towards transgender people was also cited in the report — the result, it was determined, of “underlying unlawful gender bias.”

On Wednesday, Baltimore police commissioner, Kevin Davis, vowed to turn the city’s police into “a model for the rest of the nation.” In an interview given on Thursday, he said he was already taking steps to respond to the Justice Department’s report — including assigning a trusted captain to lead a new sex offense unit and assigning a sergeant to act as an “L.G.B.T. liaison.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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