‘Problem Areas’ host Wyatt Cenac sits down with sex assault victims in NYC

Wyatt Cenac brought his late-night show “Problem Areas” to New York City on Friday with an episode that delved into accusations of sexual assault involving police officers.

While much of the educational-style HBO series has looked into the aftermath of police-related shootings around the country, “The Daily Show” alum decided to shift his focus while filming in the boroughs.

“It’s one of those stories that doesn’t really get talked about as much,” Cenac says, explaining why he chose to give victims of alleged sexual misconduct a platform to share their stories. “It felt like in telling this story, New York was a place where this conversation is already being had a little.”

In the half-hour episode, Cenac sat down with three women who’ve brought sex assault charges against city police officers to court, Mayor Bill de Blasio and current members of the NYPD.

“The officers we spoke to, they understand how much more difficult it is for them to do their jobs if there are people who are abusing their power,” Cenac explains.

NYPD Sgt. Edwin Raymond, who made a brief appearance, noted he’d “like to believe [such assaults] are something very rare.”

Andrea Ritchie, a lawyer focused on representing women of color who have been victims of police-related violence, wasn’t so convinced of its rarity. “Here’s someone who society has lifted up as someone who’s beyond critique, who’s going to be believed over pretty much anyone else,” she told Cenac. “It’s a situation ripe for the systemic sexual violence we’ve seen in the situation of the priesthood, but we’re not willing to look at it when it’s police officers.”

Cenac had an emotionally charged discussion with the victim of a 2005 case — in which two officers were charged with sexually abusing a Brooklyn woman after following her into her apartment, according to The New York Times — among others.

Getting people to open up was definitely a challenge, he reflects.

“To sit with a person and to have them share their story with me, especially a horrific experience like that, that was more the thing I felt both a responsibility and very moved that they were willing to sit with me,” Cenac says.

Like all episodes of “Problem Areas,” Cenac evolved the discussion to lead viewers toward helping to find an answer to a recurring question: Are the police good at policing themselves?

“However they need to do that work to make sure that they don’t create a culture that allows that type of behavior to exist, that’s the real challenge,” he explains.

In this case, Cenac choose to highlight the work of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which began investigating police-related misconduct complaints in February. Reports filed before the CCRB’s involvement were raised to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which Cenac’s experts claim posed issues for victims.

The NYC-filmed “Problem Areas” episode aired Friday at 11:30 p.m. on HBO. Subscribers can catch up now at HBO.com.