Republican Senator Joni Ernst is pressing her GOP colleagues to make it a crime for federal agents to engage in a sex act with a person in their custody.
Federal judges, prosecutors and probation officers would also be barred from sexual contact with a defendant. That kind of activity is already a crime for employees in federal prisons. “That would be specifically in prison systems where those guards are taking advantage of their position of authority and engaging in ill-advised activities with those that are imprisoned,” Ernst said.
Democrats in the U.S. House included this provision in the 2019 bill that reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, but the bill did not clear the GOP-led Senate. Ernst is lobbying for this issue to be included in the GOP’s police reform package that could be debated yet this month.
“Certainly we need to wrap up that loophole, make sure we’re closing down on that and hold our law enforcement officials to a higher standard of conduct,” Ernst said.
Ernst said current law lets federal law enforcement officers claim a sexual encounter with a defendant or a person in custody was consensual in order to avoid assault charges. At least 20 states have enacted legislation similar to what Ernst and two of her Democratic colleagues in the U.S. Senate first proposed at the federal level last year.