DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Department Indicates Horrifying Treatment of Sexual-Assault Victims

By
Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis
Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin DavisPhoto: Win McNamee

The Department of Justice published a report on Wednesday following their yearlong investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. It was a scathing document that detailed routine violations of citizens’ constitutional rights, the use of excessive force, and disproportionate targeting of African Americans. It also revealed a catalogue of ways in which the police department repeatedly failed sexual-assault victims.

Some of the department’s behavior was simply egregious neglect of routine procedures: Rape kits were continually left untested, standard DNA evidence was not gathered, witnesses and suspects to a sexual assault were not contacted. But the report also revealed an insidious victim-blaming attitude throughout the department:

For instance, officers and detectives in BPD’s Sex Offense Unit often question victims in a manner that puts the blame for the sexual assault on the victim’s shoulders — for example, with questions suggesting the victims should feel personally responsible for the potential consequences of a criminal report on a suspect or for having engaged in behavior that invited the assault. In their interviews of women reporting sexual assault, for example, BPD detectives ask questions such as “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?”

Women were also interrogated in emergency rooms and threatened with lie-detector tests. An email correspondence between a BPD officer and a prosecutor indicates clear disdain for a victim who had reported sexual assault:

The prosecutor wrote that “this case is crazy … I am not excited about charging it. This victim seems like a conniving little whore. (pardon my language).”; the BPD officer replied, “Lmao! I feel the same.”  

Sex workers in particular had their cases entirely disregarded. One woman reported that she had been attacked by a man with a gun, and “the suspect’s interview was almost entirely consistent with the victim’s account of the assault.” Despite the suspect basically admitting to the crime, officers told him he’d only be charged with gun possession.

So far, six police officers have been fired since the report was released.