WASHINGTON — For the past two years, ever since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, America has been enmeshed in a wrenching discussion about how the police treat young black men.
But this week’s blistering report from the Justice Department on police bias in Baltimore also exposed a different, though related, concern: how the police in that majority-black city treat women, especially victims of sexual assault.
In six pages of the 163-page report documenting how Baltimore police officers have systematically violated the rights of African-Americans, the Justice Department also painted a picture of a police culture deeply dismissive of sexual assault victims and hostile toward prostitutes and transgender people. It branded the Baltimore Police Department’s response to sexual assault cases “grossly inadequate.”
Baltimore officers sometimes humiliated women who tried to report sexual assault, often failed to gather basic evidence, and disregarded some complaints filed by prostitutes. Some officers blamed victims or discouraged them from identifying their assailants, asking questions like, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?”
And the culture seemed to extend to prosecutors, investigators found. In one email exchange, a prosecutor referred to a woman who had reported a sexual assault as a “conniving little whore.” A police officer, using a common text-message expression for laughing heartily, wrote back: “Lmao! I feel the same.”