Two police officers in Austin, Texas, could use a little reminder about rape jokes — mainly that they're generally not as funny as you think they are.
The audio captures the officers, now identified as Mark Lyttle and Michael Castillo, making ill-conceived wisecracks about ignoring crimes, including rape, as a woman walks by their cruiser:
Officer 1: Look at that girl over there.
Lucky for Austin's finest, a lawyer involved in a fender-bender case that the two had previously handled reviewed the dash cam footage and decided to release it after hearing the remarks. Raw Story has the attorney's statement, who noted that it didn't feel like he should sit on this kind of behavior.
"Arguably even more inappropriate than the rape joke made by the police officer was the other officer's initial reaction, which was to hope that the video camera was not rolling," attorney Drew Gibbs wrote. "I would hope that when a police officer observes another officer acting inappropriately, or worse, illegally, that their initial reaction would be to correct that behavior and prevent its reoccurrence. Instead, it seems that all too often the reaction of many otherwise good police officers is to hide any evidence of misconduct."
On Friday, the Austin Police Department verified the footage and also issued a formal apology:
The Austin Police Department has validated the video/audio publicly released pursuant to the Texas Open Records Act. The officers in the video/audio have been identified as Austin police officers. Upon learning of the video's contents, the department immediately launched an internal investigation. The investigation will include a comprehensive audit of the involved officers' contacts with victims of sexual assault to ensure the actions taken during the contacts meet the expectations of the department, the public and most importantly, the victims. Upon conclusion of the investigation, the department will take appropriate corrective action.
While the individual officers are likely to defend their actions — it was a private conversation! We were only joking! — there is never an excuse for making light of sexual assault. The joke becomes all the more egregious when you consider the source: This individual, who is in a position of authority, is supposed to protect his community.
The Austin incident is unfortunately not an isolated one. As Jezebel points out, there are a slew of officer-related rapes under investigation nationwide, from an Oklahoma City officer being held on bail for sexually assaulting eight women to the cop in San Jose, California, who raped a woman after she called 911 to LAPD officers who allegedly forced four women to perform sex acts and threatened them with jail time if they didn't comply.
And while the Austin officer obviously did not actually assault the woman he was joking about, his comment is indicative of the unbalanced cultural and institutional power dynamics at play in American society. It's time those in power recognize these dynamics, as well as the experiences of sexual assault survivors, and act accordingly.