Former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted earlier this month of sexually assaulting over a dozen women while on duty. Holtzclaw’s attacks were despicable. Several of his victims reported that he threatened to arrest them if they did not comply with his sexual demands. In some instances, he made clear that his victims had to provide him with sexual gratification to avoid arrest—an explicit quid pro quo exchange. In other cases, including the case that triggered the investigation into his conduct, Holtzclaw did not explicitly solicit a sexual bribe, but there was still an implicit quid pro quo – if the woman let him get away with the assault he indicated that he wouldn’t make trouble for her.
Holtzclaw is a rapist, but he is not only a rapist – he is also a dirty cop. The fact that he was a police officer is not incidental to his crimes: he was able to sexually assault women and get away with it for so long precisely because of his publicly entrusted power. That abuse of public power for private gain is the definition of corruption. As pointed out in a previous post, the currency of corruption can as easily be sex as money. When a police officer, soldier, immigration official, or judge demands sex in exchange for an official action, that is a type of quid pro quo sexual corruption (sometimes called “sextortion” ). When an official “steals” sex from a woman who is less able to resist the attack or to report it due to his publicly entrusted power, that is another type of sexual corruption. In addition to sexual assault, then, Holtzclaw should have also been charged with bribery and official misconduct.
In Oklahoma, where the Holtzclaw case played out, the definition of bribe includes any “thing of value or advantage” and the statute for official misconduct includes commission of any crime of “moral turpitude.” Both categories are broad enough to encompass sexual corruption. Many other states similarly have statutes on bribery and official misconduct that require only that the official receive a “personal benefit” or any “valuable consideration“; in those cases, prosecutors and courts already can—and more frequently should—use those statutes to cover sexual corruption. There is already some precedent for this. In a few New York cases, for example, police officers have been convicted on corruption charges for using their office to take sexual advantage of members of the public. And in one case an immigration officer was convicted of the felony of accepting a bribe for telling a woman he would deport her if she refused sex, but would arrange a green card for her if she complied. (In states where corruption statutes cover only to monetary benefits, there would need to be a legislative fix.)
But why is it important to prosecute officers like Holtzclaw for sexual corruption, under bribery and official misconduct statutes, when they can already be prosecuted for rape and sexual assault? Two main reasons:
- First, establishing that conduct like Holtzclaw’s is sexual corruption would remove the requirement to demonstrate lack of consent by the victims. Lack of consent is often the most difficult element of sexual assault cases to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, especially in situations where a police officer or other public official uses their publicly entrusted power to extort sex because a victim may be coerced to the degree that she outwardly appears to consent.
- Second, convicting people like Holtzclaw of sexual corruption sends an important message. While a rape conviction obviously sends a message that society will not tolerate this type of behavior, it does not adequately convey that there is something particularly heinous – and terrifying – about the fact that the attacks were carried out by a uniformed police officer bearing a gun the public gave him. In addition to raping and sexually assaulting thirteen individual women, Holtzclaw broke the public trust. He was corrupt. And he should face justice for that, too.