Presented March 7, 2014 at: IV EXPOSICION INTERNACIONAL “MUJERES DE AYER, HOY Y SIEMPRE” 2014 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza
My name is Cathy Mendonca and I am speaking to you today as a member of AF3IRM San Diego; a transnational feminist organization, as a frontline worker in both crisis hotline calls and serving womyn in a safety house, as an advocate against law enforcement terror and also as a survivor of police sexual assault.
Unlike most advocates working in the domestic and sexual violence response field, I see police not as an ally, but as an additional threat to the safety of identified womyn; a uniformed perpetrator committing legalized assault in society.
Recently in San Diego, nearly a dozen womyn came forward from 2011 to today who were preyed upon by these uniformed perpetrators on duty. This year, a series of sexually suggestive posters shaming those very victims hung in the San Diego Police Department’s sex crimes unit since the first former officer, Arevalos, now serving an eight year sentence for molesting female drivers during traffic stops in the Gaslamp quarter from 2009 to 2011. Since then, more victims have come forward testifying other police officers have committed the same misconduct.
The personal is political and my dissenting voice stands before you tonight.
I am speaking here today for the many womyn silenced by the fear of this institutionalized violence of law enforcement sexual assault, VICTIM shaming and all other forms retaliation and misconduct in across every city in the world. We in af3irm, as transnational womyn, are ALL too familiar with police and military sexual violence as it has been integral weapon of genocide and colonialism in the Americas. Militarization of law enforcement has also increased exponentially under globalization. While I, as a womyn, experienced sexual assault at the hands of a West LA police officer, another indigenous womyn in mexico is sexually violated by military personnel. While our sisters here in San Diego are being molested at gaslamp street stops, we must not forget that across the ocean, kuwaiti prison guards are coercing filipino womyn workers with the chance to go home in exchange for virtual sexual slavery. While our sisters here in San Diego are being sexually assaulted by police officers, hundreds of womyn have been raped by US military in Ecuador.
“The central role of any branch of law enforcement in the prison-industrial complex is representing the front lines of the criminal INjustice system. Their primary responsibility is determining who will be targeted for heightened surveillance and policing, enforcing systemic oppressions based on race, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, class and ability,-feeding people into the prison-industrial complex.
Unfortunately mainstream responses to violence against womyn have relied almost exclusively on the police to protect us from violence, when in fact, police not only often fail to protect womyn of color and trans folks of color from interpersonal and community violence, they often perpetrate further violence against us, including when responding to calls for help.”
An abusive officer’s authority in society bolsters and reinforces his sense of entitlement within his personal relationships and to another person’s own autonomy. His very presence is a symbol of authority with impunity. Sexual misconduct includes sexual harassment as well as acts of sexual assault or molestation. In a 2010 report, police sexual misconduct is the second most common form of misconduct reported, with 517 officers involved in sexual misconduct complaints during that period, 297 of complaints involved non-consensual sexual activity such as sexual assault or sexual battery. Unfortunately, this is only the reported data. Much of the publicly available information about rape and sexual assault of womyn by law enforcement agents concerns cases in which criminal charges were brought against the abusers — creating the false impression that what cases exist are effectively handled through the criminal injustice system. Yet these cases represent merely the tip of the iceberg. Even in cases where they are reported, like here in San Diego, officers are rarely prosecuted, and if they are, they are often acquitted or plead to a lesser charges and stay on the force.
Sexual misconduct presents itself in abusive and overly intrusive searches – a form systemic state-sanctioned sexual assault masked as procedure. Visual body cavity searches – often performed on womyn and trans people of color profiled or perceived to be concealing drugs. As described by a federal court of appeals, as “demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, unpleasant, embarrassing, repulsive, signifying degradation and submission.”
These THREATS are also in the form of entrapment by undercover police officers who are ALLOWED to lie, ALLOWED TO take their clothes off, engage in sexual and illegal activities in an attempt to further incriminate the victim to either face jail or deportation or to invoke the fear of being arrested or deported.
do NOT have to tell you the truth if you ask them if they are a cop.
are allowed to do drugs
are allowed to touch you or be touched as part of undercover policing of workers or public sex.
These same examples of abuse in strip searches and stop and frisk procedures also apply to intimate partner violence committed by officers at a rate HIGHER than that of the general public. With technology tools and practices being used within the system for stalking, thus, continuing their power and control cycle, all while under the impunity protected by law enforcement’s blue code of silence; a brotherhood they hold protecting their own perpetrators who serve in the force.
Many survivors of law enforcement rape, sexual assault and misconduct never report to authorities out of shame, fear they would not be believed, be subject to exposure of their sexual orientation, or gender identity, suffer retaliation by police officers, in the form of rape culture posters hung in the San Diego sex crimes unit as a recent example, or that they would be deported because they are undocumented. A primary reason that 64% of undocumented womyn in study did not seek social services is because law enforcement; in particular border patrol, ICE agents and military officers target womyn who are criminalized, marginalized or otherwise vulnerable for sexual abuse on the street, while detained and in detention centers and jails, thereby further reducing the likelihood that the officer’s conduct will even be reported3 Border Patrol agents also often work in the most desolate terrain along the Mexico-U.S. border; far removed from any supervision, allowing the opportunity for violence of any kind.
Case in point: Two womyn; Luz Lopez and Norma Contreras, both twenty-three, were wading across the Rio Grande near El Paso when the INS’s Operation “Hold the Line” was in effect. They were chased and captured by a border-patrol agent, then handcuffed together and forced into his patrol vehicle.
Once inside the vehicle, the perpetrator instructed Contreras, who was wearing a skirt, to open her legs as he began to fondle her then instructed Lopez to unbutton her overalls, and molested her as well. The two womyn say they just stared at each other, paralyzed by terror. “We feared the worst,” said Lopez “We didn’t know where he was going to take us. . . . Just the sight of him with a badge and a gun was enough to intimidate anyone.”
No womyn is protected from this violence because of status. Violence and abuse inflicted by ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT has no boundaries.
Although law enforcement officers are paid from taxpayers money, the relationship between law enforcement and community has been perverted by militarist culture, that includes assault on womyn in the form of military rapes. This must change, this must end.
We ALL deserve to be safe. The recurrences of sexual assault committed by officers in every branch, in particular San Diego as well as the investigation of San Diego police department’s facility concludes that we are not safe. Putting a womyn or anyone in a position where they are LEGALLY sexually violated UNDER ANY THREAT should never happen.
No womyn should be subject to police or military sexual misconduct in ANY part of the world.
As a representative of AF3IRM, I stand here today to not only demand, but WARN those in power. you will never break us! I stand here as living proof that your violence only creates more womyn activists. instead of taking our dignity you are only fueling our fire.
– Cathy Mendonca, AF3IRM San Diego
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