A bill filed for consideration in the upcoming General Assembly would make it a crime for law enforcement officers to have sexual contact with anyone in police custody.
While it would be easy to assume such a provision already exists in state law, the current statute regarding sex offenses and public safety staff only applies to prisons and jails. Kentucky’s current law only allows for prison or jail staff to be charged with rape, sodomy or sexual abuse if a guard has sexual contact with an incarcerated inmate.
The bill, Bill Request 200, was filed by Rep. Rachel Roberts, a Newport Democrat, and Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat. The bill would allow an on-duty police officer to be charged with third-degree rape, third-degree sodomy or third-degree sexual abuse if the officer has sexual contact with a person the officer has “arrested or otherwise held in custody,” or with a person the officers knows to be under arrest or held in custody.
Third-degree rape and third-degree sodomy are class D felonies, and third-degree sexual abuse is a class A misdemeanor.
Roberts said she learned of the issue after reading a USA Today article from July that said 35 states do not have laws that explicitly prohibit on-duty police officers from having sex or sexual contact with people in custody.
“There was a young woman who was raped by police officers in New York. There was nothing on the books that said they could not have sex with her,” Roberts said.
According to a Buzzfeed article on the incident, the two officers eventually were charged with rape, but there was no law in New York directly preventing on-duty police officers from having sexual contact with people in custody.
Roberts said in those situations, a person in police custody cannot give consent to sex.
“There is an inequitable power dynamic” between the officer and person in custody, Roberts said. But, without a law preventing such conduct on the books the officer can claim the sexual contact was consensual, she said.
People she has spoken to in law enforcement said departments have internal policies against officers having sexual contact with people arrested or in custody, Roberts said. But the law doesn’t prohibit it.
“It doesn’t give the victim any rights in that situation,” she said. “In that situation, it’s always going to be what the officer said versus what the victim said.”
The bill was filed in late October. Roberts said Monday she has not yet discussed the bill with legislators in leadership or on the judiciary committee, where the bill would likely first be heard.
The goal of the bill, Roberts said, is to make sure people are “protected specifically” in those situations.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse