Is It Legal for Police to Have Sex With Those in Custody?

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers do not think it right that police officers in that state can legally have sex with people in their care. They propose bills to ban it.

But before you conclude that Pennsylvania is a strange place to have their cops do that, consider this: 31 other states allow it too.

We’re talking about consensual sex, mind you. If police officers sexually force themselves into custody, they can be prosecuted like anyone else.

The problem here is obvious. Police officers have great authority over people they take into custody. And they can use that authority to convince an inmate to engage in “consensual” sex in exchange for release or forbearance.

Hundreds of incidents across the country

The practice appears to be widespread.

In 2015, the Buffalo News conducted a comprehensive national analysis of sexual encounters between police officers and inmates and found 700 credible cases over a 10-year period. The news found badge violators “running over drivers to fish for dates, having sex on duty with willing or reluctant partners, extorting favors by threatening arrest and rape.”

Since then, awareness has grown, and particularly since a publicly disclosed incident in New York in 2017, that this is a problem.

The New York case

The New York case in question concerned NYPD officials who were accused of raping in the back of a police car a handcuffed 18-year-old woman arrested on drug charges. The DNA found the woman during an examination at a medical center that night matched officials.

After the woman filed charges, the police replied that the sex was consensual. And that argument, like everything else, sparked widespread outrage in New York. The counter-argument put forward by the officials – that the sex was consensual and therefore innocent – surprised people.

The legislature was apparently also surprised because four months later the legislature passed a law prohibiting consensual sex between the police and people in custody. After New York acted and reduced the number of states allowing sex between police officers and inmates, three more states followed.

The two officers voluntarily quit the NYPD, but the story came back to life in October when a judge hearing the case against them announced his decision. The two men would not serve a prison term. Instead, they were sentenced to five years probation.

The verdict provoked another outcry. And more reactions, like the two Pennsylvania lawmakers, that laws need to be changed.

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