Of­fer com­pe­tence with com­fort, BPD

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Tricia Bishop Tricia Bishop is The Sun’s deputy editorial page ed­i­tor. Her col­umn runs ev­ery other Fri­day. Her email is tricia.bishop@balt­sun.com; Twit­ter: @tri­cia­bishop.

Bal­ti­more Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis says a made-over in­ter­view room at po­lice head­quar­ters sends a mes­sage to sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors that “we be­lieve you, you’re safe, and we’re here to help you.”

Here’s a mes­sage for the com­mis­sioner: There’s a bet­ter way to gain the trust of those who say they were raped — take their claims se­ri­ously.

Neu­tral paint, soft light­ing and a choice of chairs — rock­ing or stuffed — is all well and good. But when your po­lice of­fi­cers have been found by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice to rou­tinely blame the vic­tim while gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion (“Why are you mess­ing that guy’s life up?”), dis­credit their claims (“All our [sex of­fense unit] cases are bulls**t”) and “sys­tem­at­i­cally” un­der-in­ves­ti­gate sex­ual as­sault cases, it feels a lit­tle thin.

What’s that say­ing? It’s like putting lip­stick on a pig. I sup­pose it can’t hurt — es­pe­cially if it re­minds of­fi­cers to take care with this par­tic­u­lar kind of wit­ness — but it doesn’t change the fact that your depart­ment has for years added in­sult to in­jury for hun­dreds of women.

Of course, the BPD is not alone. Dis­miss­ing and fault­ing those who claim sex­ual as­sault is stan­dard prac­tice across dis­ci­plines.

Anita Hill’s three-days of graphic sex­ual ha­rass­ment tes­ti­mony be­fore the all-male Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee of 1991 didn’t pre­vent Clarence Thomas from be­ing con­firmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The films of Woody Allen, Ro­man Polan­ski and, most re­cently, Nate Parker are revered, de­spite al­le­ga­tions of child mo­lesta­tion against the first two men and rape against the third. And good old Bill Clin­ton is still one of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar past pres­i­dents re­gard­less of mul­ti­ple al­le­ga­tions against him of sex­ual as­sault and in­fi­delity.

Speak­ing of politi­cians, let’s take a look at the two ma­jor party can­di­dates vy­ing for the pres­i­dency — in­clud­ing Bill’s wife.

She’s ac­cused of trash-talk­ing his ac­cusers or try­ing to shut them up. In a tweet posted in Jan­uary this year and again this week, Juanita Broad­drick says Hil­lary Clin­ton “tried to si­lence” her claims of be­ing raped by Bill in 1978. Per­haps that’s what led Ms. Clin­ton, who has held her­self up as a cham­pion for women, to this winter delete a line from her cam­paign web­site that said “I want to send a mes­sage to ev­ery sur­vivor of sex­ual as­sault: Don’t let any­one si­lence your voice. You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be be­lieved, and we’re with you.” With you, that is, if your al­le­ga­tions don’t in­volve our friends and fam­ily.

And then there’s adul­terer Don­ald Trump. Where to be­gin? His first wife said in a sworn de­po­si­tion as part of their di­vorce pro­ceed­ings in the early 1990s that he “raped” her out of anger fol­low­ing a botched surgery to hide a bald spot. And he told re­porters this year that he would ex­pect a woman who is sex­u­ally ha­rassed on the job — in­clud­ing his own daugh­ter — to “find an­other ca­reer or find an­other com­pany” and that some of the women com­plain­ing about ha­rass­ment from dis­graced me­dia ex­ec­u­tive Roger Ailes are es­sen­tially in­grates.

Col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties might ac­tu­ally be the worst re­spon­ders to sex­ual as­sault claims, how­ever. A19-year-old Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stu­dent, for ex­am­ple, said this month that she told cam­pus of­fi­cials she was raped by a foot­ball player, who was later re­as­sured by in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he shouldn’t worry while she was “treated like a sus­pect.”

In all, more than 200 higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions na­tion­wide are un­der fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion for their poor han­dling of such claims, in­clud­ing a half dozen Mary­land schools — like the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County. Of­fi­cials there told a stu­dent that her al­le­ga­tions of be­ing drugged, raped and beaten by a fel­low stu­dent were “not se­ri­ous enough to re­port to the po­lice,” ac­cord­ing to the woman’s lawyer, who filed a com­plaint with the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion in June.

But then again, why would you re­port it? Es­pe­cially when the po­lice re­sponse — at least in Bal­ti­more — has been to be­lit­tle and blame you.

While al­le­ga­tions don’t au­to­mat­i­cally equal fact, they do de­serve a proper and thor­ough vet­ting, whether that be­gins in a cold in­ter­ro­ga­tion room or one with cozy shawls and art on the walls.

Com­mis­sioner Davis says city po­lice have also made mean­ing­ful re­forms to ad­dress their his­tory of fail­ures in han­dling sex­ual of­fense claims. But the depart­ment has said that be­fore.

Let’s hope this time they mean it.

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