One woman said police shrugged off her report of being raped by someone she’d been involved with, logging it as a “dispute” instead of a sex crime. Another woman said her account of being kidnapped and gang-raped was grossly mishandled by a sex-crimes detective for months before she was told the case was “too complex” for the sleuth.
Both women sued the city and top police officials Thursday, saying the New York Police Department systematically fails sexual assault victims despite repeatedly being prodded to improve how it handles such investigations.
“They have ignored me, belittled me, dismissed me,” said Alison Turkos. No arrests have been made in her case, or in that of her co-plaintiff, Jennifer Welch Demski.
“Survivors deserve better. New Yorkers deserve better,” Turkos said at a news conference with the women’s lawyer, Mariann Wang.
The NYPD didn’t comment on the specific allegations in the suit, but Assistant Commissioner Devora Kaye said the department is “committed to doing anything and everything to ensure survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward and help the NYPD bring them the justice they deserve.”
She noted “major improvements” to the sex crimes unit in the last 10 months, since a city watchdog agency faulted it as understaffed and neglected.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they consent to being identified, as Turkos and Welch Demski have done.
The lawsuit comes after rounds of scrutiny and promises to improve the department’s sex crimes unit, called the special victims division.
A 2010 internal NYPD committee recommended increasing the unit’s staffing and assigning it to every sex-assault complaint.
Then, last March, the city Department of Investigation found the unit was stretched too thin to investigate properly. Although the commander had requested more staffers for at least four years, the special victims division had just 67 detectives for a caseload that handled over 5,600 suspected attacks in 2017.
After the report, the NYPD transferred about three dozen investigators into the division and required that special victims detectives investigate all felony sex crimes, among other steps. The division’s commander was replaced in November.
Wang said the department — where city statistics show over 80 percent of officers are male — hasn’t done enough to change a “deeply embedded sexism” in its approach to sexual assault complaints.
“Even now, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, NYPD is not changing,” Wang said.
Turkos said she fell asleep during a car service ride home from a night out with friends in Brooklyn and ending up being taken, at gunpoint, to New Jersey and raped by three men in October 2017. She said she went to a hospital and called police two days after it happened.
She had trouble getting information or even calls back from a special victims division detective until she eventually filed a complaint and the detective was taken off the case, according to the lawsuit.
Welch Demski said she woke up one night in July 2015 to being raped by a man with whom she’d had a brief relationship. She reported it six months later, holding off because she was confused and traumatized, she said.
Police at a Brooklyn precinct told her she hadn’t been raped because she hadn’t fought back, she said. A sergeant said her driver’s license photo was attractive, commented that he had sex with his wife when she was asleep without being accused of rape, and asked Welch Demski why she was “was doing this to” the man she named, according to the complaint.
She asked to talk to the special victims division, was told the unit was declining her case and was sent home with a police report categorized as a “dispute,” she said.
“I was devastated,” she said Thursday.
Welch Demski repeatedly contacted police again to try to pursue the matter, to no avail, the lawsuit said, until she contacted the special victims division last May to file a complaint about how her case had been handled.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and changes in the department’s handling of sexual assault complaints.