These, of course, only count those allegations made and sustained. Given the typical opacity of police misconduct reporting and discipline, the number of offending officers is undoubtedly far larger.
All individuals who face criminal charges are potentially at risk of exploitation, but drug users, the mentally ill, and sex workers are at a particular risk for sex‐related police violence due to the stigmas surrounding them and their general vulnerability to abuse. Specifically, advocates who organize for the decriminalization of prostitution cite many instances of harassment, sexual assault, and other types of illegal victimization by police officers against sex workers. Perhaps more troubling is that, according to a Huffington Post story, it is legal in all 50 states for police officers to engage in limited sexual contact with suspects, not including penetration, during investigations the suspect. Such laws, combined with sex work prohibition, virtually invite abuse by unscrupulous police officers.
The HuffPo story also features, however, a lawmaker who is working to prohibit Alaskan law enforcement from engaging in sex acts during their investigations, which would be the first law of its kind in the country. Alaskan sex workers have alleged that officers go too far and have abused their authority, including coercing sex acts from underage girls. The Anchorage Police Department, on the other hand, opposes the proposed law because they claim that sexual contact is necessary to a prostitution investigation.
But if engaging in sexual contact under false pretenses is required to enforce a law, shouldn’t that law be deemed morally suspect to begin with? The sexual violation of suspects by police officers does not become morally justifiable simply because prostitution is illegal.
Generally speaking, police officers should be held to higher ethical standards than they are now, in more ways than one. When credible allegations against officers come to light, labor protections sometimes mean that criminal charges must be proven through a conviction before the officer is permanently removed from his job. But demotion and transfer are not the proper, or sufficient, remedies for officers who recklessly or maliciously endanger the safety of individuals they are supposed to protect. Administrative processes are important, but public trust and security should play a larger role in determining whether an officer should be returned to the street with full arrest powers.
On a public policy level, the criminalization of prostitution and drug use puts sex workers and drug users at heightened risk for police exploitation. Beyond the individual abuse that suspects may suffer at the hands of predatory officers, anti‐prostitution enforcement methods are themselves morally questionable. Removing criminal penalties for consensual crimes would take police out of sex‐regulation and greatly reduce the legal power corrupted officers can leverage against potential victims.