Ernst Works to Reduce Sexual Abuse of Females in Custody

The Senator introduced bipartisan legislation with Senators Booker and Blumenthal to prohibit federal law enforcement officers, agents, or employees from using the consent defense loophole

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has introduced a bill to prohibit federal law enforcement officers from claiming consent as a defense when accused of sexually assaulting someone in their custody or while exercising their authority under color of law. She’s joined in this effort by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Some states have enacted legislation closing a loophole that allows law enforcement officers to claim that a sexual encounter with someone in their custody was consensual to avoid assault charges. While there is a federal law that prohibits sexual contact between corrections employees and those in federal custody, no such prohibition exists for other federal law enforcement officers.

“It should be considered a criminal offense for any federal law enforcement officer, agent, or employee to engage in sexual misconduct while on duty. Current law prohibits the use of the consent defense for federal correctional employees, but does not hold accountable all persons involved in the administration of federal criminal law. That’s unacceptable. Our bipartisan bill will close this loophole and encourage states to enact similar legislation that protects those in custody,” said Senator Joni Ernst.

“It isn’t consent when one person is exercising the power of law enforcement and the other is handcuffed, in custody, in the back of a cop car,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This legislation would close a dangerous legal loophole that allows law enforcement officers to claim consent as a defense against accusations of sexual assault and rape.”

“Federal agents and law enforcement officers hold positions of public trust and are expected to serve and protect,” said Senator Booker. “Those who abuse their power and this mission by sexually assaulting individuals in their custody shouldn’t be shielded from accountability because of a loophole in federal law. Our bipartisan bill closes this egregious loophole at the federal level and encourages states to do the same to ensure that no law enforcement officer can evade sexual assault charges from a detainee by claiming consent.”

Background:

The Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act would:

  • Make it a criminal offense for a federal law enforcement officer to engage in a sexual act with anyone in his or her custody or while exercising their authority under color of law, regardless of consent. This would include federal agents, probation officers, judges, and prosecutors.
  • Require the Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Office to provide Congress with yearly data on documented instances of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers while exercising their authority under color of law.
  • Provide additional Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant funding to states that pass laws that:
    • Make it a criminal offense for state and local law enforcement officers to engage in sexual acts with individuals while in his or her custody or while exercising their authority under color of law, regardless of consent; and
    • Submit information on the number of complaints made to law enforcement agencies regarding an officer engaging in a sexual act with any individual that meets the above description to the U.S. Attorney General on an annual basis, who will then report to Congress a report on the findings.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA). The legislation is endorsed by the National Task Force to end Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF), the National Association to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN), and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA).

“Providing security and safety for those in our custody is a fundamental responsibility of all law enforcement officers. It is abhorrent that anybody would sexually assault a prisoner and then use the victim’s consent as an excuse.  This abuse of power is unconscionable and should not be tolerated. FLEOA applauds Senators Blumenthal, Booker and Ernst for introducing this bill,” said the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) President Nathan R. Catura. FLEOA represents approximately 27,000 federal officers and agents in 65 federal agencies.

“The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence is in strong support of the ‘Closing the Law Enforcement Consent Loophole’ Act, introduced by Senators Blumenthal, Booker, and Ernst. Anyone interacting with law enforcement should expect to be treated with respect, not to become victims of an abuse of power. We thank Senator Blumenthal, Senator Booker, and Senator Ernst and hope that states follow this great example to keep communities safer,” said Terri Poore of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“NDAA is encouraged that Congress is taking common sense steps to address a gap in federal law. The legislation closes a dangerous loophole, thus ensuring federal law enforcement officers are prohibited from engaging in sexual acts with individuals who are in custody. We look forward to continuing our work alongside lawmakers and their staff to improve federal law in a way that promotes the integrity of law enforcement and emphasizes safety in our communities,” said Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and President of the National District Attorneys Association.

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