It is well known that over-policing has a severe adverse impact on communities of color. What is less well known is that over-policing is accompanied by a corollary—a pervasive and systemic under-policing of violence against women of color. The refusal to see women of color as victims of crime who are worthy recipients of justice, and to minimize the severity of violence committed against them, are habits that are deeply embedded in the American system of [in]justice. From an 1855 Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize a female slave’s right to sexual autonomy to a prosecutor’s 2021 decision to prosecute a Black rape victim for alleged false reporting, this article explores the systemic neglect of crimes against Black women while it simultaneously criminalizes them. Along the way, the article considers why Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw targeted African American women during his campaign of sexual violence, how Cleveland resident Anthony Sowell got away with murdering eleven Black women without being detected, and what motivated D.C. police officers to charge an eleven-year-old African American rape victim with false reporting.
The article argues that race-conscious police reform requires an intersectional approach. We must consider remedies for the under-policing of crimes against women of color alongside remedies for police brutality, excessive use of force, and other forms of over-policing. It argues that achieving police accountability for investigating and prosecuting violence against women of color requires (1) robust protocols designed to reduce implicit bias by sharply curtailing officer discretion and (2) accountability and oversight mechanisms designed to ensure that each and every complaint of such violence is thoroughly investigated.
The article then draws attention to global proposals capable of catalyzing the needed systemic change. It first considers a statutory approach—the Illinois Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act, arguing for other states follow Illinois’ lead. This law requires police to follow certain procedures in relation to every sexual assault report, eliminating the opportunity to ignore crimes based on the race or gender of the victim. It next considers a constitutional approach—the new Equality Amendment proposed by Kimberlé Crenshaw & Catharine MacKinnon, analyzing the impact this Amendment would have on crimes against women of color. The article concludes that both of these approaches could be powerful tools for placing under-policing of violence against women of color on the radar and creating the needed change.
Black women, Policing, Sexual assault, Rape, Homicide, Investigation failures
Date of Authorship for this Version
Avalos, Lisa, "The Under-Enforcement of Crimes Against Black Women" (2023). Journal Articles. 458.