A bill has been introduced in Congress banning federal law enforcement officers from claiming that sexual encounters with persons in their custody are consensual. While legislation already exists in some states banning such acts, an astonishing 31 states still allow it. The “The Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act” aims to rectify the loophole that lets officers claim consent as a legal defense in instances of alleged assault or rape.

Introduced by Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Barbara Comstock, R-Va., the bipartisan bill would make engaging in sexual acts with those in custody punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The bill would also grant additional funding to states that pass the legislation and that submit reports to the U.S. attorney general and Congress on the number of such complaints received. This last provision is meant to determine the true scale of these abuses.

Rep. Speier commented in a press release:

Research shows that sexual misconduct is the second most frequently reported form of police abuse, yet the true scope of the problem is unknown because states are not required to report these kinds of allegations or arrests to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

She added she hopes that “This bill will close a loophole that more than a dozen predators have used in the past decade to escape conviction.”

The issue was brought to light in 2017 after a high school student was allegedly raped by two New York detectives while in their custody—in handcuffs. Under New York State law, the officers were able to claim the act was consensual and could plead it as a misdemeanor charge for misconduct. In March, New York changed the law. The officers are now awaiting trial.

In the same press release, Congresswoman Speier said:

This is unconscionable. Law enforcement members wield incredible power in their ability to detain individuals. Our bill ensures that police will act accordingly in their official duties, as befitting their role as officers of the law, and that any such abuse of this power will not be tolerated.

While the bill would prohibit further abuses from law enforcement, it calls into question why, in the #MeToo era, the bill is only now being introduced. Six seasons of the popular Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black”—which highlights injustices by police and the prison system—will have aired before the bill’s passage. Hopefully, by the seventh and final season, officers will no longer be able to plead that sex with those in custody is consensual.

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