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Helen Rosenthal, Gloria Steinem Demand Reforms to NYPD’s Special Victims Division

Gloria Steinem (Photo by Tsubasa berg)
Gloria Steinem (Photo by Tsubasa berg)

Gloria Steinem, icon of the feminist movement, joined lawmakers and activists at City Hall yesterday to discuss the dismal state of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division (SVD).

The event took place yesterday at 12 p.m. Steinem stood alongside Council Member Helen Rosenthal (D-Central Park, Lincoln Square), and Women’s Equal Justice Project Director Jane Manning, among several others.

“We watch Law and Order: SVU, and the first thing they say is that this fictional SVU is an elite team within the NYPD,” said Rosenthal. “Right now, we don’t have an elite team. People working in the department don’t think it’s great to work for the SVD, for a variety of reasons. What we’re asking Mayor de Blasio to do is to, in fact, create an elite team of the Special Victims Division.”

The conference came on the heels of a sobering New York Times report about the NYPD’s abject mishandling of a rape case. The case involved a New York University student who was raped in her apartment in January of 2019; after investigating the crime scene, the police found fingerprints that matched those of Tyler Lockett, who was already in jail for three charges of burglary.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal joined sexual assault survivors and anti-rape advocates at City Hall to demand that Mayor de Blasio order NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to remedy under-prioritizing of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division. Photo by Tsubasa Berg
Council Member Helen Rosenthal joined sexual assault survivors and anti-rape advocates at City Hall to demand that Mayor de Blasio order NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to remedy under-prioritizing of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division. Photo by Tsubasa Berg

Bafflingly, though, the police failed to charge Lockett with rape and released him from jail in July. He assaulted three more women before he was apprehended again.

Steinem and her peers blamed the debacle squarely on the NYPD, for neglecting and understaffing their SVD. A 2018 report from the Department of Investigation (DOI) found that the SVD’s caseload had increased by 65.3 percent since 2009; despite this, the division’s staffing levels remained more or less the same. The DOI recommended that the department would have to double its staffing just to keep pace.

The debacle occurred a year later, showing that little had changed since the DOI issued the report.

“Despite the fact that sexual assault is one major crime category that has continued to rise month after month for years, the NYPD continues to fail to staff SVD properly,” Steinem wrote in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). “We cannot understand why a department of more than 35,000 officers can spare less than 300 investigators for a category of crime that has a more profound effect on the lives of women, children, LGBTQ communities, communities of color, and our whole city, than almost any other.”

But the aspect of the case that they found most objectionable was the behavior of the special victims detective who received the victim’s complaint. The detective showed an outward reluctance to believe the victim’s claims and encouraged her to drop the case.

His handling of the case, they said, was a display of incompetence, callousness and misogyny. Furthermore, Manning claimed that the detective had previously received multiple complaints for the same sort of behavior.

“When the victim called the NYPD looking for help, what she got was a hostile, disbelieving detective,” said Jane Manning. “He talked her out of her own case, asking if she was sure she wanted to go through with it. He said that her name would be in the headlines, which is a lie, and that the defense attorney would make her look like a slut, which is disgusting and illegal.”

Aniya A., founder of the Neighborhood Violence Survivors Alliance shared her own story of becoming homeless after an attempted home invasion of her home in the Bronx that was ignored by NYPD. Photo by Tsubasa Berg
Aniya A., founder of the Neighborhood Violence Survivors Alliance shared her own story of becoming homeless after an attempted home invasion of her home in the Bronx that was ignored by NYPD. Photo by Tsubasa Berg

At the conclusion of the press conference, Manning made a special request to all of the reporters in attendance; keep covering the issue.

“Please keep covering this issue,” said Manning. “Not just the #MeToo movement, not just the uplifting of survivors’ voices, but also the specific systems that are enabling predators to continue attacking and doing harm. Please keep asking questions about the NYPD’s failure to staff and resource the Special Victims Division.

“Please ask Mayor de Blasio: ‘Are you satisfied with the work done in this case? Were there previous complaints about this same detective doing the same thing, trying to talk a rape victim out of cooperating with a police investigation just to reduce his own workload? Have detectives within the NYPD cried out that they are looking for every possible way to close cases because there just aren’t enough of them to do the work? And why have you not listened to the voices of the detectives, the prosecutors, the journalists, the survivors and advocates who have tried to tell you that your Special Victims Division is broken?’ Please ask those questions, and thank you so much for being here today.”

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