From CBS News:
Authorities have charged a western Oklahoma sheriff with coercing and bribing female inmates so he could use them in a sex-slave operation run out of his jail.
Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess resigned Wednesday just as state prosecutors filed 35 felony charges against him, including 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy and five counts of bribery by a public official. Burgess, the top officer in the county of 26,000 since 1994, appeared in court Wednesday was released after posting $50,000 bail.
I wish I could say that I was shocked to read these allegations, but this is an extreme example of what too many people view to be fully legal behavior -- or what they believe should be legal to "prevent the trivialization of real rape."
I'm sure there have already been people who heard about this arrest and have blamed everyone but this sheriff.
Systematic sexual abuse of female prisoners is real violence even if none of the victims were shot or beaten or in immediate fear for their lives. I'm emphasizing the gender of these prisoners because of the dismissive attitude many people have about sexual violence committed against women who are viewed as less than perfectly moral.
This dismissive attitude is dangerous because it encourages crime -- just make sure to select your victims in line with popular attitudes.
The sheriff used the power of his position as a weapon. I don't care what crimes inmates committed, it is wrong for anyone to coerce another person into sexual contact or sexual performance. I would feel the same way if the prisoners involved in these charges had been men.
If those in charge of upholding the law disregard it then that teaches inmates that ignoring the law is something everybody does. Behavior like this supports the idea that the only crime is getting caught and that seemingly law abiding citizens are as corrupt as those who are wanted by authorities.
Update (3/25/09): Burgess has been convicted, including on 5 counts of second-degree rape, and sentenced to 79 years.