Officer’s Conviction Could Encourage Rape Victims to Come Forward
They were scared. Some were ashamed. Above all, the 13 women who testified that former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw had raped and sexually assaulted them thought no one would believe them.
On Thursday, Holtzclaw was found guilty of five counts of rape and 13 other counts of sexual assault against eight of the 13 black women who shared their stories with the court. The all-white jury deliberated for four days before convicting the former Oklahoma City officer, whose trial began on Nov. 2.
The verdict, experts say, could encourage other survivors of rape and sexual assault—particularly those who were victimized by people in positions of authority, like Holtzclaw—to come forward.
“This is a good example of how our criminal justice system can and should work to hold people accountable when they abuse their power,” said Sarah Layden, director of advocacy services at Rape Victim Advocates, a Chicago-based nonprofit that offers medical, legal, and counseling services to rape survivors.
“The number one concern of survivors we work with is fear of not being believed, or not being taken seriously,” Layden continued. “Guilty verdicts can let people know that they will be supported.”
Low arrest, prosecution, and conviction rates are some of the factors that discourage survivors from reporting to police. Just 12 percent of 283,200 rape or sexual assaults reported between 2005 and 2010 resulted in an arrest or investigation, according to the federal National Crime Victimization Survey. Holtzclaw’s conviction came as a surprise to some advocates because of statistics like these.
The Oklahoma City Police Department issued a statement Thursday night saying it was “pleased with the jury’s decision…. We are proud of our detectives and prosecutors for a job well done. We are satisfied with the jury’s decision and firmly believe justice was served.”
Holtzclaw’s victims were predominantly from low-income neighborhoods, and many of them had criminal records. Police investigators found he targeted women with a history of drug use or sex work.
Survivors of sexual violence at the hands of law enforcement are even less likely to report their experiences, according to an Associated Press investigation released in November.
“It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country,” Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida told the AP. “It’s so underreported, and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.”
The study found roughly 1,000 officers had lost their badge over a six-year period for rape, sodomy, sexual assault, and other sex crimes.