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The Situational Context of Police Sexual Violence: Understanding the Impact

In 2015, JeAnna Anderson was pulled over for a registration issue when she was sexually assaulted by a police officer.

The officer, Anthony Armour, had pulled Anderson into a dark parking lot with no other witnesses around, where she immediately realized that she did not want to be alone with him. When asked about the reason for the stop, Anderson was told not to “play dumb,” and when she requested that Armour call a supervisor so that they were not alone, he declined.

While Anderson endeavored to record the interaction on her phone, Armour forcibly removed her from her car, subsequently subjecting her to sexual assault before proceeding to arrest her.

Police sexual violence is when officers, on or off duty, commit sexually abusive or degrading acts against others. This can include sexual harassment, sexual assault, invasive and degrading frisks and strip searches, and sexual extortion.

Between 2005 and 2015, there were 517 cases of forcible rape by police in the US, according to Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor. An officer is accused of sexual misconduct, the second most common complaint against officers, at least once every five days in the US, according to one study.

Police typically target the most vulnerable people. In a seven-year period, Stinson found that half of the sexual misconduct arrests against officers involved children.

Daniel Holtzclaw, a serial rapist, was convicted for targeting eight black women in Oklahoma when he was in uniform. Experts report, officers frequently assault women of color, domestic violence victims, informants, and women facing traffic stops.

In June of 2020, Phoenix prosecutors announced charges against officer Sean Pena, who allegedly raped one woman who he had handcuffed and sexually assaulted another. In 2015, Phoenix officer Timothy Morris was charged with sexually assaulting a handcuffed woman, but was acquitted after he claimed it was consensual. Last year, an officer in the nearby city of Mesa was allowed to keep his badge and benefits after the city’s own investigation found a pattern of sexual harassment of civilians and female officers.

Despite the prevalence and gravity of police sexual misconduct, only a few organizations are actively collecting data on these incidents. This lack of comprehensive data collection poses a significant obstacle to addressing and preventing these reprehensible actions.

The narratives of survivors like JeAnna Anderson underscore the critical imperative for systemic change within law enforcement. Achieving accountability, transparency, and comprehensive measures to prevent and address police sexual violence is an urgent priority. These efforts are crucial to ensuring justice and safety for all individuals within our communities.

It is incumbent upon us to unite and demand robust accountability mechanisms and systemic reforms within law enforcement to halt and prevent this abhorrent abuse of power.

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