Sexual assault happens disproportionately to the most vulnerable among us, those without resources, those who aren’t trusted or heard, those who are despised, those whom the law stands against. Women are assaulted at higher rates than men. The poor and uneducated are more likely to be assaulted than the rich and educated, and the homeless…well. Ethnic minorities are more vulnerable than whites. The mentally ill are more likely to be assaulted than the generally sane.
Sexual minorities are more likely to be assaulted than the vanilla, heterosexual monogamous. The genderqueer are more vulnerable than gender-normative performers.
Those who break (enforced) laws are more likely to be assaulted than those who don’t, both inside and outside of incarceration. Illegal immigrants are more vulnerable than those who can go to authorities without fear of deportation.
Then there are children.
All of that makes this so much more appalling.
Both cases were among more than 400 sex-crimes reported to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office during a three-year period ending in 2007 — including dozens of alleged child molestations — that were inadequately investigated and in some instances were not worked at all, according to current and former police officers familiar with the cases.
In El Mirage alone, where Arpaio’s office was providing contract police services, officials discovered at least 32 reported child molestations — with victims as young as 2 years old — where the sheriff’s office failed to follow through, even though suspects were known in all but six cases.
Many of the victims, said a retired El Mirage police official who reviewed the files, were children of illegal immigrants.
This wasn’t inevitable, but it was the very likely outcome of having a sheriff who decided that he was the law. That’s the big difference between someone who understands that their job is to uphold the law and the sort of petty tyrant like Arpaio. His priorities become the priorities of the law rather than the other way around.
Bill Louis, then-assistant El Mirage police chief who reviewed the files after the sheriff’s contract ended, believes the decision to ignore the cases was made deliberately by supervisors in Arpaio’s office — and not by individual investigators.
“I know the investigators. I just cannot believe they would wholesale discount these cases. No way,” Louis said. “The direction had to come (from) up the food chain.”
Louis said he believes whoever made the decision knew that illegal immigrants — who are often transient and fear the police — were unlikely to complain about the quality of investigations. He said some cases also involved families here legally.
I can’t speak to the qualities of individual investigators, but Louis is being too generous here. These immigrants, legal and illegal, may have been the bravest people in the world. Where were they going to complain? Arpaio was running the police department as well as the sheriff’s department at this point. He’s been consistently supported by the electorate, despite significant abuses of power and the U.S. Constitution. In fact, it’s his treatment of immigrants (presumed illegal until proven innocent) that has made him as popular as he is.
Arpaio–and whoever else in his organization participated in this decision-making–ignored the sexual assault of children not just because it was easy to do. They weren’t making hard choices about how to use limited resources, not with Arpaio’s posses and a contract for the extra work. No, they simply didn’t care to treat the law as applying to those people, who they think should be vulnerable. Since they were the law, they didn’t.
And that is how you become America’s Toughest Sheriff®, boys and girls, by beating up on the most vulnerable among you. Just like child molesters.