The former Oklahoma City police officer was accused of sexually assaulting thirteen African American women in the neighborhood he patrolled. Like so many other predators, Holtzclaw figured he could assault his victims with impunity, calculating that they would not report him for fear they would not be believed. After all, he was a police officer and former football star, while they were not “respectable” because they had used drugs or had some involvement with the criminal justice system.
Holtzclaw’s conviction on 18 of the 36 counts he was charged with is encouraging, but our society has much more work to do to end rape culture. How and why did he get away with his crimes for so long? We cannot answer that question until we begin to understand the way in which police abuse of authority intersects with gender, race and class.
Holtzclaw’s defense strategy of re-victimizing the victims by parading their criminal records and past drug use before the jury was part and parcel of rape culture. In his closing statement, defense attorney Scott Adams said, “The witnesses that you saw in this courtroom don’t care about the truth. For them it’s about whatever’s going on in the moment. Whatever it is to further their agenda.”
Rape culture isn’t an agenda, Mr. Adams. It’s an epidemic, and a blot on society that keeps women fearful that if they come forward about their rape they will only be re-traumatized as every aspect of who they are gets twisted around against them.
Join the African-American Policy Forum for a webinar The Holtzclaw Trial: It’s Not Over Yet, to focus on police sexual assault of black women and challenge the impunity with which police officers use their law enforcement status as a badge rape.