Two lawmakers have filed legislation they say would close a loophole in state law that allows police officers to claim sexual conduct with those in their custody is consensual.
The proposal, filed by Representatives Kay Khan and Marjorie Decker, would expand sexual assault protections for those in police custody and help “eliminate ambiguity around issues of consent,” according to a joint statement from the legislators.
According to their statement, state law already prohibits police and corrections officers from “engaging in sexual relations with an inmate and indicates that a person shall be deemed incapable of consent in such circumstances.” The Massachusetts law mirrors a zero-tolerance federal policy, but there continues to be some legal ambiguity about the behavior of on-duty officers in such cases, according to the two lawmakers.
“It eliminates ambiguity in any way,” Decker said of the proposal during a phone interview Sunday.
Khan and Decker, Democrats from Newton and Cambridge, respectively, said they are pushing the proposal after two New York City police officers were charged in October with kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old Brooklyn woman they had taken into custody. Following those allegations, the New York State Assembly last month passed a proposal that closed a loophole that allowed officers facing sexual assault charges to claim the victims consented to the act.
A Salem police officer was arrested on rape and indecent assault and battery charges in November 2016. Officer Brian Butler was arraigned on accusations that he raped a man in a police station on Halloween.
That case, according to Khan and Decker, is ongoing, with the officer defending his actions “on the grounds that the sexual activity was consensual.”
Khan and Decker’s proposal would “prohibit police officers from engaging in sexual conduct with those in their custody, supervision or with whom they interact in their professional capacity.”
The legislation, they said, was crafted with the consultation of law enforcement officials and survivor advocates. It is awaiting committee assignment.
“Hopefully this legislation, in addition to our existing sexual assault statutes, will eliminate ambiguity around issues of consent and help victims of such abuse feel more empowered to come forward,” Khan said in a statement.
Decker called the legislation “an important step in codifying with clarity that mutual consent can not exist when a person is in the custody of law enforcement.”
Representative Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat and cosponsor of the bill, said in a statement that the power dynamic between police and those in their custody “is too unequal to allow for true, uncoerced consent.”
“Our laws should reflect that imbalance,” she said.
Messages left with Khan’s office were not responded to on Sunday.