Content warning: This article contains descriptions of graphic sexual violence.
Two New York City cops are facing charges of raping a handcuffed 18-year-old woman who they were holding in custody in their NYPD van, in a case that put a national spotlight on police sexual assault.
These crimes often go unreported by victims who are understandably afraid of police retaliation, but the victim in this case, whose online name is Anna Chambers, has unashamedly and openly shared her story -- and used social media to fire away at her assaulters and their woman-hating public defense.
The two cops, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, clearly didn't expect Chambers to speak out after their attack. Now they and their legal teams have scrambled to put forward victim-blaming defenses.
On September 15, Chambers was driving with two male friends near Coney Island when Martins and Hall, working in plain clothes, abandoned a "buy-and-bust" they were in the middle of to pull her and her friends over.
During the stop, Anna scratched her top, which the officers used as an excuse to ask her to remove her top and bra. They found two anti-anxiety prescription pills and some marijuana in the car.
Only Anna was removed from the car and was handcuffed, while the police used their own phones to call her friends and warn them not to follow them. According to a New York Daily News report, after Chambers' friends drove off, Martins said to her, "We're freaks -- what do you want to get out of this arrest?"
The pair of officers then took turns driving four miles each while the other raped Anna in the backseat. Chambers' lawyer Michael David says that the cops told her, "You'll spend three hours in the precinct. This is what you're going to do for us, and we'll let you go."
A hospital rape kit found DNA from both officers on Anna. Two witnesses saw Anna being forced into the police van. Security footage shows her leaving the officers' unmarked car nearly an hour after her and her friends were pulled over.
In the face of this overwhelming evidence, the officers and their lawyers immediately attempted a smear campaign to discredit Anna Chambers.
The cop lawyers claimed Chambers was just looking to make money from a lawsuit against the city, and that she couldn't possibly have been sexually assaulted because she posted selfies online. "This behavior is unprecedented for a depressed victim of a vicious rape," they wrote in a letter to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office -- as if they are authorities on the psychology of victims of sexual assault.
There's nothing unprecedented about teenagers posting photos of themselves online, but what is unusual -- and clearly unexpected by the cops and their lawyers -- is the backlash and news attention that this rape has received.
Much of that is due to Anna Chambers, whose Twitter feed is filled with defiance -- she posted photos of the cops who raped her in return for their sharing her photos, and she's taunted the NYPD about how much they'll owe her in damages (which the cops' lawyers are taking as "evidence" that she fabricated the assault.)
Martins and Hall admit to having sex with Anna Chambers, but they claim all acts were consensual, and they're pleading not guilty to the 50 counts against them, including coercion and first-degree rape charges. The NYPD punished the two by demoting them from detectives to police officers. The officers later chose to resign.
There is no way what happened to Anna Chambers was consensual. She is 18 years old, was unexpectedly separated from her friends, and was being coerced through what the officers told her.
Incredibly, while the NYPD claims it is "against department policy" to have sex while on duty, there is no law or rule stating that sex with people in police custody is by definition nonconsensual -- even though the law does recognize that consensual sex doesn't exist between prison guards and inmates, and between parole officers and parolees.
There is a long history of police unashamedly using their position to sexually assault women.
Most reported incidents involve officers picking women they see as vulnerable and whose stories won't be believed -- alone, underage, homeless, possessing drugs or doing sex work -- and frequently warn their victims that if they try to do anything about the incident, the officer will arrest them and claim they were breaking a law.
Earlier this year, it was exposed that police across the country had been using their positions to hire sex workers to set them up, threaten them and arrest them -- another practice which is totally legal (despite, or rather because of, sex work being illegal) in many states.
In Oakland, more than 28 police employees were found passing around an underage woman, Celeste Guap, among them over a period of nearly a year. Celeste stayed silent in return for not being arrested or prosecuted. After the case had been publicized, the mayor claimed the cops would be punished. Instead, two were given promotions.
Activists in the sex industry describe the common incidents as "state sponsored sexual assault" and "institutional rape."
But of course, like Anna Chambers, many victims of police sexual assault aren't sex workers. In 2015, Oklahoma City cop Daniel Holtzclaw was found to have sexually assaulted 18 women, all of whom he had pulled over and claimed he would arrest if they did not do as they were told. The officer turned off his body camera before committing his crimes.
It is nearly impossible to put accurate numbers on the number of sexual assaults and rape committed by law enforcement. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported -- and the number increases when narrowed to the police since little justice is likely to be won.
In reported incidents of police sexual misconduct, nearly half are under 18. In a 10-year study, reported cases amount to an average of one police officer being caught in an act of sexual misconduct every five days.
The police also have a domestic violence problem. At least 40 percent of police families experience domestic violence -- two to four times the reported rates in non-law enforcement families. These numbers are likely below the reality as domestic violence is also underreported inside police departments.
Those who do come forward are likely to be personally humiliated, smeared or discredited with little hope of justice. Officers are tried by their peers internally, and if the case makes it to court, officers have an advantage both because they are friendly with judges and because juries often decide in favor of law enforcement.
Cops who are accused of domestic violence are unlikely to be formally investigated since it could exclude them from being able to carry guns -- something "necessary" for their position.
A Brooklyn council member has proposed a bill that would make a police officer engaging in sex with someone under arrest a misdemeanor. For the bill to have any legal effect, it would eventually need to pass at the state level.
While the bill will hopefully pass, it won't get to the root problem of police impunity -- the same brick wall that activists fighting police brutality and murders have been struggling against for years.
Despite the overwhelming evidence in Anna Chambers' case -- which is uncommon in many rape cases -- there is still a chance she could lose, which could set a dangerous precedent.
Police forces have an unfair advantage in courts and are often let go, despite the evidence. Just a few days ago, NYPD officer Wayne Isaacs was cleared of any wrongdoing despite clear video evidence that he killed Delrawn Smalls during a traffic altercation.
If Eddie Martins and Richard Hall aren't convicted of raping Anna Chambers, it will likely have a chilling affect on the willingness of other victims of police sexual assault to come forward, regardless of whether any bill is passed.
We must stand by victims of police assault and demand justice, showing we will not let these cases be swept away through victim blaming.