Effort to ban police officers from sex with someone in their custody

HARRISBURG, Pa. — It may seem wrong or an oversight to people, but it’s technically legal in Pennsylvania for a law enforcement officer to engage in sexual acts with someone in their custody.

Now, the state House and Senate have bills to change that. They’re called “No Consent in Custody” (HB 1807 and SB 851), and they were sponsored by Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) and Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks, Chester, Montgomery).

Rep. Chris Rabb and Sen. Katie Muth

The memoranda sent to all representatives and to all senators refer to a situation in which

“a police officer who sexually assaults a person in custody can use sexual consent by the individual as a defense in court.”

Then, it refers to the situation as a

“dangerous legal loophole in Pennsylvania’s sexual assault law”

that has to be closed.

It also cites a report in The Philly Voice in which

“a Wilkes-Barre police officer was arrested by state police and accused of allegedly sexually assaulting four different women while he was on duty.”

He was arrested this past Jan. 22.

The latest progress in Harrisburg is more than two months old. The House bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 12, and the Senate bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 18.

If passed, the law would make any sexual contact between law enforcement and a person in custody a third-degree felony.

“There can be no consent to sexual contact between law enforcement and the person they have in their custody,” Sen. Muth said. “The inherent power dynamics of an arrest and custody situation does not allow for consent to be made.”

Rep. Rabb added,

“It breaks my heart to have to inform people that we need to enact a state law to prohibit law enforcement agents from making sexual contact with people in their custody.”

According to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, the bills

“will make laws regarding sexual assault of persons in official custody consistent, predictable, and therefore more effective at deterring mistreatment and abuse within the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, all of which have already taken incalculable tolls on people’s lives and trust in government — and have resulted in millions of dollars in lawsuits.”

This isn’t the first try to outlaw police officers from engaging in sexual acts with someone in their custody. Rep. Rabb also introduced the bill in the last legislative session (2017-18), when it was known as HB 2691. Then, it was also referred to the Judiciary Committee but no vote on it was ever taken.

The House and Senate memoranda state it’s already illegal in Pennsylvania for sexual contact between corrections officers and inmates, and between mental health workers and patients.

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