Breonna Taylor was killed in her home by police officers serving a “no-knock warrant,” allowing them to enter her home without announcing themselves. They weren't even in uniform. Thanks to Breonna’s Law, passed earlier this week, these warrants have now been banned. However, the three officers who shot her — Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove — have yet to be charged in her death, and remain on administrative leave.
Once the names of the officers responsible for Taylor’s shooting were released, multiple women came forward to share their negative experiences with Hankison who, according to these women, has a history of sexual assault. These allegations against Hankison highlight an often overlooked element of police brutality — sexual violence.
Both allegations were posted on social media and share eerie similarities, indicating that Hankison may have had a routine of preying on women. Both women say they met Hankison when he offered them a ride home from a bar — in his police car, while in uniform.
“In early fall, I began walking home from a bar intoxicated,” Emily Terry wrote on Instagram. “A police officer pulled up next to me and offered me a ride home… He began making sexual advances towards me; rubbing my thigh, kissing my forehead, and calling me ‘baby.’” Terry said her friend reported it the following day but “nothing came of it,” but she came forward after recognising him when his face was on the news following Taylor’s shooting.
A woman named Margo Borders shared her story on Facebook, which she said occurred in April 2018. Borders wrote that she was calling an Uber to go home when Hankison, who she “had interacted with on many occasions at bars in St. Matthews,” offered her a ride. “He drove me home in uniform, in his marked car, invited himself into my apartment and sexually assaulted me while I was unconscious.” The Louisville Metro Police Department is now investigating both of these claims.
The allegations of sexual violence against Hankison reveal a larger, systemic problem regarding law enforcement’s entitled violence. According to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Dicrmination, sexual misconduct is the highest form of police misconduct after excessive force.
“Women’s claims of sexual assault against police officers are largely ignored and not adjudicated in any way,” Tarana Burke wrote on Glennon Doyle's Instagram during the #ShareTheMic campaign. Last August, two NYPD officers accused of raping a teen in their custody received probation, not jail time. At the time, there was no law that prohibited police from having sex with someone in their custody; in fact, nearly three dozen states allow for sex between an arresting officer and the person they have in custody.
Though both of Hankison’s accusers are white, it’s important to note that Black women are at highest risk for sexual violence at the hands of police officers, as Michelle S. Jacobs, a professor of law at the University of Florida lays out in a 2017 paper, The Violent State: Black Women's Invisible Struggle Against Police Violence.
“If you factor in the fact that Black women have the highest rate of police interaction and incarceration in the country then you begin to see how this all ties together,” wrote Burke. “We are in danger to both losing our lives to police and being sexually assaulted by them.” Daniel Holtzclaw, a police officer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was convicted in 2015 of raping 13 Black women. Prosecutors in his case outlined how he specifically targeted low-income Black women because they would be less likely to turn him in, and he targeted his victims using traffic stops in a poor neighbourhood and used threats of arrest of existing warrants to coerce them into sex.
In a 2015 investigation, the Associated Press determined that nearly 1,000 officers had lost their licenses for sexual offenses over a six year period, which the reporters noted was “a sure undercount of the problem.”
“It's so underreported, and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them,” Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida, who helped study the problem for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told the AP.
For Borders, one of Hankison’s accusers, this was the case. “I never reported him out of fear of retaliation,” she wrote. “I had no proof of what happened and he had the upper hand because he was a police officer. Who do you call when the person who assaulted you is a police officer? Who were they going to believe? I knew it wouldn’t be me.”
For those fighting against police violence and working to make defunding and abolishing the police a reality, excessive violent force and sexual violence are necessarily linked. “Law enforcement does not effectively respond to sexual violence cases, which has resulted in a lack of services for survivors,” Burke wrote. “Defunding the police means reducing police budgets and investing that money directly into services that support survivors.”