We want justice for Jane Doe

Rachel Cohen looks at the recent formation of the Campaign Against Police Sexual Assault, and the group's fight to win justice for women who have been victimized by police.

CAPSA activists demand justice for Jane Doe outside the Cook County courthouseCAPSA activists demand justice for Jane Doe outside the Cook County courthouse

"RAPIST POLICE have got to go! We support Jane Doe!" On a rainy Thursday morning at 8:30 am, protesters brought their message of outrage and solidarity to the front door of Chicago's Cook County criminal courts building.

Inside, two officers of the Chicago Police Department were attending the first status hearing in one of two cases against them. Officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez are charged with raping a 22-year-old woman in her apartment after offering her a ride home at 2 a.m. on March 30, 2011. They also face a criminal suit for a nearly identical assault committed 19 days earlier.

Despite the fact the woman they allegedly assaulted on March 11 had filed a rape complaint against the two, Clavijo and Vasquez remained on duty long enough to repeat their alleged crime.

Activists from across the city recognize that the cases against these two officers--and a number of similar recent charges--point to an endemic level of violence within the CPD that deserves an immediate response.

Inspired by Chicago's SlutWalk march against sexual violence and victim blaming in June, veteran rape crisis councilors, LGBT rights activists, socialists, anarchists and members of the Sex Worker Outreach project, among others, united to form the Campaign Against Police Sexual Assault (CAPSA). The July 25 picket was the group's first action.

CAPSA was joined by members of the Campaign to End Torture, which carries on the work the years-long organizing project the eventually jailed former Chicago police lieutenant Jon Burge for overseeing the torture and forced confessions of over a hundred Black and Latino men. Together, activists picketed and rallied on the courthouse steps before entering the courtroom to observe the day's status hearing.

The woman whose case brought Clavijo and Vasquez to court that day has conveyed to CAPSA through the attorney working on her civil suit that she is very glad to hear people are organizing on her behalf. "I want this to never happen to anyone else," she's said.

Participants wore name tags that read "Hello, my name is Jane Doe," to express solidarity with the victim and with all the survivors who demonstrate an enormous amount of courage by reporting sexual assault on the part of the notoriously brutal and corrupt Chicago police.

A number of people entering the courthouse took time to observe the rally and chat with protesters. A few shared their own stories of police violence and some picked up signs and joined in the picket.

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THE CHICAGO police department has recently become the focal point for widespread outrage. So far in 2011, while homicides and aggravated assaults have declined by double digit percentages, rates of police violence have shot up.

Police shot 42 Chicagoans in the first seven months of 2011, killing at least 16. In all of 2010, police shot 25 people, killing 13.

Amid this frightening rampage, Chicago's new boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is on pace to deliver on a campaign promise to place 1,000 new police officers on street patrol. And amazingly, some Chicagoans are begging for still more.

In Boystown, a historically gay-friendly Northside neighborhood, members of the Northalsted Business Alliance used a recent Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meeting--often used as neighborhood snitching forums, run from the top down by police--to launch a campaign against homeless and poor LGBT youth (often youth of color) who visit the neighborhood as a safe place to access to community services, health care, and just to relax with friends.

At the CAPS meeting on July 6, the business owners' group announced they were donating $50,000 to the Chicago police, in hopes of getting more beat officers assigned to Boystown--incidentally, one of the lowest-crime neighborhoods in the city. Members of CAPSA intend to arrive as a contingent to a protest planned to take place outside the next CAPS meeting in Boystown on August 3.

In New York, two police officers were acquitted on charges of rape in May. And in July, media outlets from the Murdoch-run New York Post to the standard-bearing New York Times began shockingly brazen efforts of to slander the hotel worker who accused International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn ahead of his trial.

This context adds to the feeling of urgency in CAPSA's efforts to generate a visible, vocal resistance to police brutality against women.

Acts of brutality, harassment, and profiling testify on a daily basis to the tendency of many police officers to perceive themselves as operating above the law. And sickeningly, the city of Chicago continually proves them right. According to a 2007 report by Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, the chances are just 2 out of 1,000 that a Chicago Police officer charges with any kind of abuse will receive any meaningful discipline.

In particular, when cops get away with rape, the ability of any survivor of sexual violence to seek or win justice is jeopardized. As CAPSA organizer and longtime gender equality activist Cassandra Avenatti explained to Candice Bernd, reporting on the picket for In These Times, "We've been talking about ways to fight the culture of impunity that systematically tries to deny the legitimacy of any rape case, and tries to justify rape."

Activists in CAPSA plan to continue to hold public protests to ensure the Chicago Police pay a price for assaults committed by on-duty officers, to highlight the negligent practices that allow a striking majority of individuals accused of sexual assault to avoid ever spending a day behind bars, and to reach out to every survivor of police sexual assault, whether they've come forward to report their attack or not.

As Sarah Macaraeg told fellow protesters as the action wound down:

We've seen the Burge scandal. We know it can take a long time to win justice in cases like these. But we're showing today that we're here from jump-street to demand these officers are held accountable, and that no amount of victim-blaming is going to sweep what happened to Jane Doe under the rug. We'll be here as long at it takes to see justice for Jane Doe!