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The Role of Bystander Intervention in Preventing Police Sexual Abuse

The police have a great deal of power and authority in a community. Unfortunately, some police officers take advantage of their positions of power to sexually abuse, assault, and discriminate against citizens. If there are witnesses or bystanders present at the time of the incident, they can play a crucial role in protecting a victim from police sexual misconduct.

What Is Police Sexual Abuse?

According to one research report, 1,475 police officers were arrested from 2005 to 2011 for sex-related crimes. The first step in preventing police sexual abuse is learning how to identify it. Police sex crimes can refer to sexual harassment in policing, sexual assault against a citizen or detainee, or a pattern of sexual abuse by a police officer against one or multiple victims. Examples of police officer sexual misconduct include forcible fondling, rape, statutory rape, sodomy, child pornography, online solicitation of a child, intimidation , and prostitution.

What Does it Mean to Be an Active Bystander?

A bystander refers to someone who is present but does not take part in an event or incident. There are passive and active bystanders. Passive bystanders do not interfere with the event they are witnessing, while active bystanders take action to help those involved or otherwise offer their services. Active bystanders can play an important role in preventing sex crimes and protecting victims from danger. This includes preventing police sexual abuse and assault by directly interfering with the assailant’s attempt to take advantage of or harm a victim.

How to Safely Intervene Against Police Sexual Abuse as a Bystander

If you are present at the scene of an arrest or another interaction between a police officer and a citizen, keep your distance and do not interfere with the arrest. If you wish to be an active bystander, however, remain present and watch for signs of police misconduct. If you witness an event where the police are not making an arrest – such as a meeting between two police officers at the precinct – pay attention and look for signs of unacceptable behavior.

If you witness police sexual misconduct as a bystander, take the following steps to safely intervene:

  • Put your personal safety first. Ask yourself if you can help safely without putting yourself or others in danger. 
  • If you can help, it is best to intervene as a group instead of alone. Get someone to help you, such as other bystanders or someone in authority.
  • Call out the police officer’s inappropriate behavior directly or distract the perpetrator to allow someone else to intervene. If you do not feel safe speaking out, delegate this task to an authority figure.
  • Care for the victim. Talk to the victim and ask if he or she is okay. When it is safe to do so, assist the victim in getting help or reporting the police officer to the authorities for sexual misconduct.

It is important for bystanders to speak up and take action against police officers who are abusing their positions of authority to commit sex crimes. Without bystanders holding police officers accountable, they may feel empowered to do anything they want – including committing sex crimes against vulnerable victims, such as children and people in detainment. Recognizing when someone is in danger and intervening safely could prevent a serious sex crime from occurring.

Taking the Next Step: Reporting the Officer and Seeking Justice

Once the situation is diffused, the bystander can continue to help by reporting the incident and cooperating with a subsequent investigation. As a direct witness to the police sexual abuse incident, a bystander may be able to provide signed statements explaining what happened and supporting the victim’s complaint.

In addition, bystanders can often act as witnesses in sexual assault and claims, as they may have information or insights that other people do not. A bystander may have insider information about what was said and done by the parties involved. For this reason, bystanders may be called to the stand to testify during criminal and/or civil cases brought against police officers for sex crimes.

If you witnessed police sexual abuse or are a victim yourself, contact Manly, Stewart & Finaldi to request a free consultation. Our attorneys can help you understand your legal options.

Manly, Stewart & Finaldi is regarded as America's leading law firm for sexual abuse cases. As a firm that exclusively handles sexual abuse cases, our California law firm offers experienced representation to obtain justice for sexual abuse survivors, harassment, and discrimination.

Learn more about Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.