Saturday, December 10, 2011

Law Enforcement Doesn't Stop Sexual Assault: On the MCSO Controversy

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

While it's embarrassing for the MCSO that former investigators' claims led to media attention such as MCSO priorities blamed for sex-crimes snafu, I cringe when thinking about how this will be framed, as usual, that regular police departments who are not led by extremist clowns like Arpaio, do a fine job at dealing with sex-crimes.  Interestingly, the articles I read barely mention Arpaio's focus on immigration, whereas independent media like Sheriff Arpaio ignored rape cases for years does.  It is clear that solving sexual assault cases took a back seat to the politically-motivated anti-immigrant campaign of attrition.  Yet this is not to insinuate that law enforcement is meant to prevent or even solve crime for the most part- particularly when it happens to especially-marginalized people.

Let's contrast this recent MCSO controversy with the situation that is rarely talked about: Immigrant Detainees: The New Sex Abuse Crisis.
There is abundant evidence that rape is a systemic problem in our immigration detention facilities—for women, for men, and, as the Women’s Refugee Commission has documented, for children. In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report based on over fifty known incidents and allegations of sexual abuse of immigration detainees. The American Civil Liberties Union has discovered 185 government reports of such allegations since 2007, and a senior ACLU staff attorney says this is only “the tip of the iceberg.”
For crossing a man-made line in the sand in an unauthorized way, people are made particularly vulnerable to abuses inside and outside the prison system.  Sometimes the coyotes assault those they're helping to smuggle across the border.  Men have dressed as ICE agents to assault women.  Real ICE agents, police, and detention officers get away with abuses of this sort all the time.  Whether this behavior is excused or ignored because of racism or because the survivor is "illegal", it is made easier and more commonplace because of the criminalization of people.

Police or ICE officials sometimes make themselves out to be saviors of people held against their will, such as in drop-house busts in cases where migrants are held for ransom, only to turn around and hold the migrants in their own cages, where many of the same abuses occur.  The question that arises while people are calling out Arpaio for de-prioritizing sexual assault cases is, whose bodily integrity matters?  Are we considering the cases of those who get picked up for overstaying their visa?  Do they even have the choice to report the crimes perpetrated against them?
Terrified of deportation and separation from their families, immigrants in detention are often extremely reluctant to file grievances against facilities run by the very people who can expel them from the country; and there is little question that deportation is sometimes used as retribution against immigration detainees who complain, and sometimes as a way of forestalling investigations into abuses. And it’s clear that facilities holding people who do not feel able to complain are particularly fertile grounds for abuse, as are institutions that can easily deport witnesses against them. 
What comes to mind is the situation with criminalization of sex-workers, especially where it overlaps with immigration.  While sex-trafficking does occur, laws that are written to supposedly curb sex-trafficking actually make things worse for sex-workers.

As Nandita Sharma said in an interview,
Anti-trafficking legislation is used to target so-called “illegal migration.” Instead of placing the blame for migrants’ vulnerability on the restrictive immigration policies of national states that force people into a condition of illegality, it blames those who are actually facilitating their movement across borders... Anti-trafficking legislation criminalizes people who facilitate migrants’ entry into national states. I think this is the underlying agenda behind anti-trafficking legislation. It offers ideological cover to target both the migrants themselves and the people who facilitate their movement. In this way, anti-trafficking legislation strengthens border policing...
Let me give you two examples of how anti-trafficking legislation actually increases the vulnerability and exploitation that many women migrants face. First, anti-trafficking legislation targets people who are helping women cross borders. This raises the cost of moving across borders and, as a result, women have to go further into debt in order to do so. Second, by imposing these enormous penalties – which, in Canada, can include a life-sentence and in the United States can include a death sentence – those facilitating movement make migrants use routes that are less safe. People are being forced to cross borders in very vulnerable places like deserts and mountains, places where hundreds of migrant bodies are found dead every year. Anti-trafficking legislation is thus making migration less safe for women.
Jessica Yee was also interviewed:
Women around the world, especially racialized women, shoulder the burden of labour that doesn’t get acknowledged or reported. Forced labour and exploitation are reported even less. When we’re talking about “trafficking,” people assume we’re talking only about sex work, and only about cross-border trafficking. We need to remind ourselves that sexual slavery and the forcing of sexual acts are not the only kinds of exploitation, even though they seem particularly salacious compared to other forms of forced labour. We also need to understand that “trafficking” takes place within nation states, and against Indigenous people.
Many people uncritically accept the conflation of trafficking and sex work. The same people who think it is taboo to talk about sex are the first to suggest that this is the number one issue of forced labour, but it’s not. And people who are actually being trafficked and moved against their will receive no attention because the state is so focused on raiding massage parlours and arresting women who are sex workers. This neglect occurs in the name of righteousness and “saving” women, yet it is merely the further colonization of women’s bodies, women’s spaces, and women’s choices.
(Listen to the radio show here).

This is all to familiar to those of us who had been following the situation of the migrants in Maricopa County who were charged with conspiracy in human smuggling cases.  Even though the law wasn't meant to go after migrants themselves, hundreds of migrants were charged with conspiracy by MCSO over the last few years.  While many who didn't take a guilty plea were not convicted, MCSO was still able to get them caught up in the legal system because they could take them in under reasonable suspicion.  And even though the authors of the bill said they didn't intend for the law to be used that way, it was clearly an effort to cut down on migration, while likely increasing the risks of those involved in a similar way as the sex-trafficking laws discussed above.  This is also similar to the ways in which the Employer Sanctions Law should really be called the Employee Sanctions Law because many more employees have been arrested under the guise of going after employers, few of whom have seen any consequences (Another workplace raid targets workers not bosses).

The criminalization of unauthorized movement, drugs, and sex-work is done allegedly for the sake of minimizing violence, issues of security, and health problems, when in fact it perpetuates these things.
The badges, guns, and official vehicles, this assumption that law enforcement are never/rarely law-breakers, allows violations to occur against people, not to mention the drug smuggling enabled by the authority provided to various agents (Mexican Smugglers Exploit the Corrupt Reputation of U.S. Border Officers).  This is not about the unfortunate bad apples who spoil the barrel- this is a systemic, institutional problem.  And even while Arpaio gets publicly called out for deprioritizing sex-crimes, it is not as though the media doesn't praise the (other) police as well as perpetuate victim-blaming.

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