Below is a letter sent to Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the Public Safety committee on the recent revelation about the Seattle Police Department’s suspension of sexual assault investigations.
June 14, 2022
This is Emi from the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade. I’ve been in conversation with community members about the recent revelation about the Seattle Police Department’s suspension of adult sexual assault investigations, and I’d like to share some thoughts:
1. As others have already pointed out, SPD’s decision to abandon sexual assault victims is not a result of the “defund” movement, but that of a conscious decision to prioritize homeless encampment sweeps and low-level misdemeanor crimes such as small scale shoplifting.
2. SPD’s prioritization of anti-homeless and anti-poor enforcement didn’t just take resources away from investigating sexual assaults. It increases sexual assaults by making homeless and poor women (among others) more vulnerable to sexual coercion, exploitation, and violence.
3. Some observers have mentioned how there are many women working along Aurora who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence, and argued the police had better pay more attention to them. However, the reality is that the police has been paying extra attention to Aurora ever since the election to the detriment of the very women who are experiencing risk. After years of mostly benign neglect, SPD has ramped up targeted harassment of people suspected of walking while woman (of color) on Aurora under the same policy of targeting those “unwanted” by “neighborhood” NIMBY activists.
4) SPD’s deprioritization of sexual assaults demonstrates its misogyny and lack of understanding of harms of sexual violence, but it also shows the law enforcement’s internal logic: sexual violence is notoriously difficult to prosecute, compared to other crimes like shoplifting and trespass that they are prioritizing, because it often relies on the cooperation and perceived credibleness of traumatized and often confused or conflicting victims. The law enforcement prefers to focus on something where they can score points more easily.
…which brings us to 5) even in the best of circumstances, which we definitely are not in, but even in the best of circumstances, law enforcement cannot be the primary or effective solution for vast majority of sexual assault cases. Hence, regardless of SPD’s priorities, we cannot rely on the police as the primary vehicle to prevent sexual violence, support survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, etc. We need to reject attempts to use survivors to increase funding for the police, which would make more people vulnerable to sexual violence, and instead call for more funding for preventitive efforts at schools, communities, and workplaces, as well as for survivor support, restorative and transformative justice practices, etc.
Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade