Among the worst findings from the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department is the revelation of BPD’s disrespect and dismissal of women facing sexual assault in Baltimore. The report discloses a pattern of gender discrimination and apathy toward individuals brave enough to report their sexual assault to the police. In a city that is 63% black and where 25% of citizens live in poverty, that means many low-income black women receive little assistance and support when they report sexual assault.
According to the DOJ report, Baltimore police engaged in victim blaming, were unwilling to prosecute and report sexual assaults, and discredited sex workers’ reports of sexual assault. During questioning, a detective reportedly asked one survivor, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?”
Further, a prosecutor and an officer traded emails regarding a case, referring to the survivor as a “conniving little whore,” adding that, “this case is crazy…I am not excited about charging it.” The BPD officer replied,“LMAO! I feel the same.”
Denying the validity of a sexual assaults in the midst of a victim’s testimony is problematic. Only around 35% of sexual assaults are reported in the first place, and the US criminal justice system is notoriously bad at bringing perpetrators to justice: according to RAINN, only 6 out of 1000 rapists will go to jail for their crime.
The BPD is doing a disservice to its constituents by routinely denying and vilifying sexual assault survivors. This disservice not only occurs in officers’ interactions with survivors, however. The DOJ report shows that only 15% of rape kits in possession by the BPD were tested from 2010 to 2014. Officers also rarely followed up with suspects or witnesses in sexual assault cases, leaving many cases open or poorly investigated. According to the New York Times, in 2010 the percentage of sexual assault cases dismissed as “false or baseless” was higher in Baltimore than any other city in the nation.
This apathetic and sexist inaction betrays the trust and safety of Baltimore women and sexual assault survivors, leaving them in danger even as they take steps to report their assaults.
In addition, BPD particularly mistreats transgender women. The report describes officers’ blatant disrespect toward one trans woman who was referred to by incorrect pronouns, despite clarifying her gender identity to officers. When a female supervisor was called to conduct a search on the woman, she exclaimed, “I am not here for this shit. I am not searching that.” The male officer that arrested the transgender woman told her, “I do not know if you are a boy or a girl. And I really don’t care, I am not searching you.”
The report underscores that this interaction stems from a larger culture of disrespect by BPD, as other reports to the DOJ confirm that transgender individuals have experienced similar treatment and are afraid to report crime to the police.
This mistreatment of vulnerable populations, including women, transgender folks, sex workers, and sexual assault survivors, is deplorable. The report provides evidence that African Americans already have reason to pause before calling BPD, but imagine the double bind of a black trans woman or a black sex worker in Baltimore, wishing to report her sexual assault. It is clear that BPD has failed to protect and serve their constituencies and, worse, left a swath of people most susceptible to sexual assault to fend for themselves.