State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-200, is fighting to close what he calls a dangerous legal loophole in Pennsylvania’s sexual assault law by pushing legislation that would better protect all residents — particularly those detained or arrested by law enforcement officers.
Currently in Pennsylvania, a police officer who sexually assaults a person in custody can use sexual consent by the individual as a defense in court.
Rabb wants to eradicate that loophole and took the first step by introducing a bill that would expand Pennsylvania’s definition of institutional sexual assault to include law enforcement officers and any person in the officer’s custody.
The proposed legislation would also eliminate sexual consent as a defense for law enforcement officers who engage in such conduct with individuals in custody.
It would also make any sexual contact between an officer and a person in custody a third-degree felony.
“Police officers are supposed to use their authoritative power to protect the public, not prey on the innocent,” Rabb said. “I find it ludicrous that this major oversight in our legal system has received such minor attention. Everyone has rights, and no one deserves this type of mistreatment, no matter what your criminal history.”
In proposing the new law, Rabb also cited similar legislation that recently passed in upper New York.
The more than 700 allegations of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers across the country between 2006 and 2015 showed a repeating pattern of officers using their position to force women in custody to perform sexual acts, according to a Buffalo, New York database.
In at least 26 cases, charges were dropped, or the officer was acquitted.
Two months ago, the New York City Police Department supported a move to bring all police departments in line with their existing internal policy.
Lawmakers there acted swiftly after a high-profile case in which two detectives arrested an 18-year-old woman on marijuana charges and, while she was handcuffed in the backseat of the police car, allegedly raped her and forced her to perform a sex act.
In that case, the cops admitted to having sex with her, but alleged it was consensual.
“This horrific rape outraged our community, and from day one I have made it clear I would do whatever it took to advocate for common sense consent laws to make sure that this could never happen again,” said New York City Council member Mark Treyger.
“I’m grateful to all the advocates that joined this fight,” he said.
Reportedly, New York City Mayor de Blasio previously called the loophole “very troubling,” and the NYPD has supported legislation to close it.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had also championed a legislative fix, said the measure “closes an egregious loophole and helps protect against abuse in our justice system.”
In Pennsylvania, state law bars consensual sex between corrections officers and prison inmates and between mental health workers and patients.
However, there are no such protection exists for a person arrested by officers in the field, Rabb said.
“All taxpayers have a right to expect that law enforcement officers are carrying out justice efficiently and with integrity,” Rabb said.
“My legislation would expand Pennsylvania’s definition of institutional sexual assault to include law enforcement officers and any person in the officer’s custody. By doing so, it would eliminate sexual consent as a defense, making any sexual contact between an officer and a person in custody a third-degree felony,” he said.