Driving While Female


Posted on November 17th, 2008 by Katherine Franke
 4 comments  

One of the courses I teach at Columbia Law School has to do with litigating cases of excessive force against the police.  See the syllabus here if you’re interested.  A couple months ago I was talking to a lawyer, James Cook, in Tallahassee, Florida about a taser case he is working on (you can see the YouTube video of the officer using a taser against a very distraught man – but beware, it’s very disturbing):

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Cook also told me about a case he was handling where a state trooper stopped two young women on the interstate and told them they were going to jail (passenger too) for speeding unless they exposed themselves to him.  He asked me whether I knew of any police department training materials on sexual assault or abusive of authority.   Two of my students, Shelby Schwartz and Brian Ward, volunteered to look into the issue, and their report is available here.

A few things to highlight:

• Police officers recently being trained in Maryland held a competition among the trainees to see how many of them could get pictures of women’s breasts in exchange for not writing them traffic tickets.

• My students were unable to find one police department that included issues of sexual assault or sexual misconduct in their training materials.  And not one of the organizations that do back up to police departments, collecting or helping to develop training materials and personnel policies had a model policy on this issue.

• The Violence Against Women division of the Protecting Citizen’s Civil Rights Project of the International Association of Chiefs of Police have begun to explore the development of training policy on this issue.  Their earlier work centered on training police officers on violence against women crimes, strengthening the commitment of law enforcement officers to respond to these crimes, and enhance the ability of communities to respond to victims.  I was pleased to hear that they are taking the issue of sexual assault by police officers seriously.

•For more information documenting this problem, see Driving While Female: A National Problem in Police Misconduct

In the police misconduct area, much attention has been paid to racial profiling, misuse of tasers and other vitally important issues, but it is shocking – some might say conscience shocking – that despite the common practice of male police officers abusing their authority to extract sexual favors from female citizens, not one police department has implemented either policy or training informing their officers that this conduct violates the Constitution.

4 comments

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