A sexual assault case involving a Honolulu police officer is set to go to trial in August 2020. The news comes as four female officers within the department have alleged sexual abuse, assault, or harassment from their male counterparts in the past year.
The allegations of sexual misconduct by Honolulu Police Department (HPD) officers add to the mounting misconduct by officers within the department in recent years, showing a pattern of behavior that is worrying members of the community and causing mistrust.
Of the four complaints by female officers, three remain active, with one alleging that the offender threatened her by pointing a loaded gun at her.
August 2020 Trial of Abusive Officers
The August 2020 trial of police academy instructor Adrian Mokulani K. Paiva involves two counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree for unwanted sexual contact. The assault occurred when a female recruit was training to become an officer.
Some allege male superiors may make engaging in sexual conduct a prerequisite for passing scores on exams or other assessments. Some also note how this is a prime example of male counterparts abusing their authority for personal gain.
Officer Charged with Child Sexual Assault
In another instance of misconduct, a fired officer from the Honolulu Police Department was given five years’ probation for the sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl. The ruling came down in August 2019 after the victim asked the court to give former officer Teddy Van Verberghe probation with the promise that he would no longer be able to serve as an officer.
Verberghe was required to submit to sex offender treatment and register as a sex offender if he plead no contest to four counts of second-degree sexual assault and three counts of third-degree sexual assault.
Despite becoming aware of the accusation against Verberghe in 2015, HPD didn’t fire Verberghe until May 2016. Prosecutors took the case to court in early 2017.
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Struggle for Female Representation in HPD
While women make up half the population, only 12% of the Honolulu Police Department is female, making it more difficult to conduct traditional police business and make better connections with the community, says Susan Ballard, Honolulu Police Chief.
Though this doesn’t deviate greatly from the national average of 12.6%, more and more police departments are making recruitment of women a focus.
Allegations of sexual abuse and assault, unsurprisingly, make it even harder to recruit women police officers. According to a study by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is more common in workplaces with a skewed gender ratio, for example, a workplace where more employees are men.
This is especially concerning as the Honolulu Police Department in early 2020 had 286 officer vacancies and had to spend $10.7 million in overtime pay to ensure adequate coverage.
Further Problems at the Honolulu Police Department
Though there are numerous problems within the ranks of Honolulu’s finest regarding sexual abuse and assault, the department’s issues also spread into racial and gender discrimination.
After allegations came forward in 2008 against a lieutenant, a settlement for $6 million was paid out to three officers who were subjected to inappropriate slurs based on race and gender.
Questions remain as to why it took so long to remove the lieutenant who was accused of making the slurs, and one University of Hawaii Criminology instructor noted that the lawsuit pointed to bigger systemic issues within the Honolulu Police Department.
A state senator who was questioned about the matter said that this settlement likely wouldn’t have needed to happen if both the previous and current police chiefs had listened to discipline recommendations.
Fear of Retaliation
As with other instances of sexual assault and abuse, those who have been subjected to these harassments in the workplace often fear retaliation or ridicule for reporting these crimes. Some may also feel shame or believe that they’re to blame for this type of treatment.
It’s never okay for someone to touch, speak to, or insinuate sexual favors to anyone, especially when he/she is in a place of employment. These acts are not just crimes, but they affect people mentally, physically, and emotionally.
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We Can Help
Sadly, these instances happen too often, especially in male-dominated professions. If you have been abused or harassed by anyone, you have a right to contact an attorney to learn more about your rights. Our team of experienced attorneys are available to speak to you about your rights and to determine whether you have a claim.