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U.S. Police Agencies Rife With Officer-on-Officer Sexual Abuse

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination remain rife in some of the largest police departments, and many of those accused of them don’t face significant punishment, according to NBC News. Lawsuits from complaints against the sheriff’s office in Los Angeles County and police departments in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago have produced taxpayer-funded payouts over the past five years totaling more than $40 million in officer-on-officer abuse cases. The problems appear to be systemic. Female victims’ lives are often upended after they come forward because of flawed internal reporting systems that result in accusers’ identities being disclosed and a culture of retaliation, according to officers who sued. The harassment and discrimination lawsuits capture only a slice of the problem, female former police officials say. Many women who face harassment or discrimination never pursue legal action, and internal abuse complaints aren’t made public. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up against these government agencies,” said Joanne Archambault, a former San Diego police sergeant who helps police agencies craft reforms for sex assault investigations. Legal experts say police departments have little incentive to curtail officer-on-officer abuse because the payouts rarely come out of the departments' budgets as cities and taxpayers foot the bill.

The full scope of officer-on-officer sexual abuse and harassment is unknown. Law enforcement agencies don’t publicly disclose internal harassment data. The most comprehensive study thus far included a survey of 1,135 departments. Out of the nearly 3,000 responses, 70 percent of female officers said they had experienced such things as being shown porn at work or being asked to perform sexual favors. Eight percent reported that another officer had sexually assaulted them. “It is frustrating to see how little is being done to address this,” said a study co-investigator, Bruce Taylor of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The police departments have policies that ban sexual harassment and require supervisors to report claims of abuse. Ffemale officers say the rules often aren’t followed or enforced. Some of the women who tried to file complaints with internal investigators said their allegations were never documented or probed. Others said that after they filed internal reports, the information spread to other officers. Some said that when they told their superiors about sexual misconduct, they were warned to stay quiet.


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