Protesting the NYPD rapists

July 20, 2011

NEW YORK--Protesters rallied at Foley Square in late June at the scheduled sentencing of two New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers who had been acquitted on charges of sexual assault, but convicted of lesser crimes.

In 2009, officers Ken Moreno and Franklin Mata were reportedly asked by a woman to escort her home to the Lower East Side because she felt too intoxicated to get home on her own. They did so and then proceeded to enter her apartment multiple times throughout the night.

The woman later came forward to say that the officers sexually assaulted her. Moreno claimed he only "kissed" and "snuggled" with her--but later admitted on tape to having had sex with the victim while wearing a condom. This disgusting behavior by police speaks to a larger issue of sexual assault on women, even among people supposedly sworn to protect New York City residents.

Instead, the officers were found guilty of three counts of official misconduct, but acquitted of the sexual assault charges. This acquittal was based primarily on the fact that there was no physical evidence of an assault. A surveillance tape of the victim was also used in court as evidence that the victim was supposedly not too drunk to have be able to consent.

Incredibly, one unidentified juror later said in an interview that she believed the victim had indeed been raped. "[Kenneth Moreno] raped her," the juror told DNAinfo. "There is no doubt in my mind." But, the juror stated, because of a lack of physical evidence, the jury did not find the officers guilty of sexual assault.

The acquittal of the officers on the more serious charges sends a clear message: women who come forward as being assaulted--whether by police officers or others--are often not taken seriously. This is the same sexist blame-the-victim rhetoric that women have faced for decades.

THE OFFICERS' sentencing on misconduct charges had been scheduled for the morning of June 28--but those who showed up to protest were informed that the sentencing had been postponed. Even so, several dozen stayed to rally outside courthouse and express their opposition to the officers' acquittal.

The rally was called by the Connect the Dots Coalition, a group of advocates and organizations that have come together to prevent violence and sexual assault in New York City. In addition to demanding that police take rape seriously, they also want to promote women's health and rights by showing the links between sexual assault and violence against women.

Some of the participants in the rally included Crime Victims' Treatment Center, the National Organization for Women of New York City, Treatment Center, Feministing, the Healing Center, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and the Service Women's Action Network.

The coalition is attempting to bring the diverse concerns of women in New York City forward. As one speaker said, "We will fight for a culture that does not accept violence against women."

So often, the discussion around sexual assault is focused around the victim's behavior--what a woman wore or how she might acted that supposedly "invited" the assault. Women who come forward as being survivors are often subject to invasive background checks and questions about their "moral character."

Such is the case in the recent arrest of former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who reportedly assaulted an immigrant hotel attendant while she was working. Since his initial arrest, Strauss-Kahn has been released without bail and is currently living in an upscale apartment in New York City. Meanwhile, the alleged victim has been dragged through the mud, including being called a "hooker" on the front page of the New York Post.

Today, activists and organizers are attempting to reframe the debate around sexual assault to say that no matter what, the victim is never to blame.

This is a welcome development and is helping to spark a new movement for women's rights. The recent SlutWalks that took place in cities across the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are significant additions to the process of building an unapologetic movement for women's rights.

To push back against the daily oppression and violence that women face will require a struggle that discredits notions about what women should and shouldn't be like and what choices they should or shouldn't make with their own bodies. We need to continue to connect the issues around these individual cases--and oppose violence against women and victim-blaming.

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