The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation into the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has found that in addition to being systematically discriminatory against black citizens, also discriminates against sexual assault victims, especially against prostitutes and transwomen. The report paints an unsettling picture of systemic harassment and neglect towards citizens who report their sexual assaults to the police.
The New York Times reports that, “Baltimore officers sometimes humiliated women who tried to report sexual assault, often failed to gather basic evidence, and disregarded some complaints filed by prostitutes. Some officers blamed victims or discouraged them from identifying their assailants, asking questions like, ‘Why are you messing that guy’s life up?'”
These findings are nothing new. In 2010 the Baltimore Sun reported that the BPD solved fewer rape cases than any other police department in the country. The DOJ found that between 2010 and 2014 the BPD only tested 15% of rape kits. On multiple occasions they identified a suspect in sexual assault case but never followed up with contacting and charging in suspect. Overall the DOJ deemed the handling of sexual assault cases “grossly inadequate.”
The inadequacy extended to prosecutors, who were not immune from the culture of undermining sexual assault victims. In an email exchange between a prosecutor and a police officer, the prosecutor referred to a woman who had reported her sexual assault as, “a conniving little whore.” The officer responded, “Lmao! I feel the same.”
The DOJ also uncovered an “underlying unlawful gender bias” against transgender citizens. One transgender woman reported that an officer who was ordered to search her complained to his colleague with disgust, “I am not searching that.” Then he told the woman, “I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. And I really don’t care. I am not searching you.”
The BDP was particularly likely to ignore sexual assault claims made by prostitutes. Officers would even sexually prostitutes that they encountered. The DOJ reports, “We heard complaints from the community that some officers target members of a vulnerable population — people involved in the sex trade — to coerce sexual favors from them in exchange for avoiding arrest, or for cash or narcotics.”
Baltimore is not the only city where the DOJ has found gross misconduct against sexual assault victims. It has released damning reports on New Orleans, Missoula, and Puerto Rico. However, Baltimore is possibly the worst. The city’s NAACP president, Tessa Hill-Aston, explains that, “There’s a lot of women in the same communities that have been victimized just as much. [Officers] just didn’t care, because it was a poor black woman or a poor black neighborhood.”
The injustice against women, transwomen, prostitutes, and male victims of sexual assault is inextricably linked to the discrimination against black citizens in Baltimore, but it also extends beyond it. The DOJ under President Obama has undertaken a monumental effort to tackle police bias against, and mistreatment of, women and sexual assault victims, but there is still work to be done. The fight must continue under our next president, we cannot afford to wait in the face of this injustice.