When the basic premise of the drug war is that we do not own our own bodies, the recurring theme of police sexual assault in the media over the last several months seem less like freak occurrence and more like an expected, perhaps its inevitable outcome. Last year there was the police rape of a New Mexico man and another very similar incident in El Paso, In both cases, the victims were held under suspicion of carrying drugs inside their bodies, and subjected to numerous intense and invasive violations as successive tests turned up negative. These cases are gruesome, graphic and brutal examples of the kind of power the state has granted itself over us.
It does not end with just these incidents; strip searches are routine at airports. If we wish to travel via air, then we must grant the state permission to invade our privacy and our bodies. Probably the most explicit form of state rape – that is some kind of sexual assault or violation undertaken by a representative, or someone with authority granted by the state – is prison rape. What gives a government official this power? If we consider the specific case of the man in New Mexico, it is unlikely that two men on the street would have been able to apprehend him and conduct these acts without him protesting, resisting, trying to get away or, at the very least, gaining support from bystanders.
Given the position of authority granted to these men, however, means that physical resistance isn’t even a reasonable response. The presence of law enforcement in this man’s ordeal provided the implicit threat of an infinitely scalable escalation of violence. Had he attempted to stop one of the doctors from violating him, at least one officer would have gotten involved to subdue him; were he successful in subduing one cop, it is likely that a second cop would have used lethal force against him; in the unlikely event that he could have stopped this, the state has near unlimited resources to stop him. He could be chased to other states, even extradited from another nation. As soon as the state is involved in a situation like this, the individual citizen has already lost. While some instances are eventually dealt with in an appropriate manner, the aforementioned prison rape by prison authorities shows that even after sexual assault takes place, the opportunity for recourse is minimal to non-existent — to the point where authorities were able to deny that such a thing was even a problem.
Recently a report by the Department of Justice, surveying nearly 2 million prisoners from federal, state, local and private prisons, found that almost half of sexual assaults in prison are perpetrated by prison staff. In cases where allegations were substantiated, less than half the offenders were prosecuted or faced jail time. This issue stems from the conflict of interest that arises when state officials are expected to be held accountable to and prosecuted by other state officials. It’s the same reason we don’t see police engaged in acts of brutality being handcuffed by their peers. Inmates attempting to report such offenses must deal with possible retaliation by the accused or their peers, who have been granted power over them by the state. As demonstrated before, their actions carry with them the implicit threat of infinitely scalable violence.
If these cases do reach court, again we have the problem of representatives of the state sympathizing with fellow agents of the justice system. This is exemplified by the recent sentencing of a police officer charged with violently anally assaulting twelve victims. The officer in question, who is by any account a serial rapist, faces only two years in prison. Four other officers were involved, reportedly assisting by holding down and even pointing guns at the victims. The accomplices face no charges at all.
Writing here about the horrors of state rape and the power dynamics involved is in no way meant to minimize the horrors of rape by private individuals against others. The difference in this situation is that the power given to the attackers is artificial. With the elimination of the organization that grants the power to strip rights from other human beings, backed by the implicit threat of infinitely scalable violence, we can at least remove this scourge from our society.
William Sheppard is a left anarchist and activist with a particular interest in online rights, privacy and encryption.