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Anna Chambers turned her car into the shadowed driveway of a park in Gravesend, Brooklyn. It was dusk at lower New York Bay, and the 18-year-old hadn’t noticed two men step out of a nearby van with blacked-out windows.

They were in street clothes but had shields displayed around their necks, indicating that they were police. Eddie Martins and Richie Hall, both detectives with a Brooklyn narcotics unit, approached the coupe and asked Chambers and her two male passengers to step out.

The officers sent the young men on their way, but they detained Chambers, who police say had marijuana and illegal prescription pills in her purse, according to court documents. Martins and Hall then handcuffed Chambers and locked her in the back of a black Dodge Caravan, and Hall slid into the driver’s seat and pulled onto the street. The court documents also allege that Martins, sitting in the rear with Chambers, said that he and his partner were “freaks” and that he asked what she was willing to do to avoid arrest.

According to Chambers’s account, the van stopped, and the detectives took turns engaging in sexual acts with her. She claimed that both forced her to perform oral sex and that Martins raped her. They then uncuffed Chambers and let her out near the 60th Precinct, a local police station, without charging her with a crime.

Chambers immediately alleged that she had been sexually assaulted. Martins and Hall — whose DNA was found on Chambers, according to court documents — were charged with felony sex crimes about a month later, on Oct. 30, 2017. The detectives, who have since resigned from the New York City Police Department, pleaded not guilty to a 50-count indictment.

Defense attorneys Peter Guadagnino and Mark Bederow have contested the allegations and whether Chambers was handcuffed, arguing that they have evidence that she is not credible. “No reasonable juror could conclude either man had sexual contact with Chambers by force,” Bederow said.

Michael David, who represents Chambers, said the police can’t deny that they had sex with Chambers because of the physical evidence. “There’s no defense other than consent,” he said.

While the issue of consent is at the heart of most sexual assault and rape cases, the allegations against the New York police officers raise a unique question: Can someone who is under arrest and in police custody consent to sexual contact with their arresting officer?

Despite the power police hold in such situations, laws in nearly three dozen states have allowed police officers to argue that such sexual contact can be consensual and that their standing as an arresting officer is essentially a non-factor in such allegations. It’s an argument that has been used to combat complaints like those Chambers brought forward at a time when New York didn’t specifically bar police from engaging in consensual sexual contact with subjects of investigations and suspects in crimes.

Consent can be the difference between a rape conviction and an acquittal at trial, and experts say that allowing police to have consensual sex with those in their custody — an inherently off-balance relationship — makes it nearly impossible to determine whether someone consented or instead went along with the sexual contact out of fear or because they believed it was their only option.

“The definition of consent for someone who is in handcuffs is in a different playing field,” said Brenda V. Smith, a law professor at American University and a former commissioner of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.

Members of law enforcement and the policing community largely have agreed with this view — that a detainee cannot consent while in custody.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington think tank that advises departments on best practices and policy, said that any professional exercising authority should know not to engage in sexual contact with someone they have in custody, regardless of whether there are specified rules governing such behavior.

“There’s no way a police officer could reasonably view the actions of a detainee as consensual,” Wexler said. “The notion that a department needs to have a policy or a law to prohibit what’s obviously unacceptable when holding a person in custody is just wrong.”

Authorities have long held that law enforcement officials should not have sexual relationships with inmates in the nation’s jails and prisons, and Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in September 2003, promoting the development of a “zero tolerance” policy for rape in all custodial corrections settings, at both the federal and state levels. It also encouraged the passage of criminal legislation, in large part based on the imbalance of power between inmates and those responsible for their care and control.

All 50 states have since criminalized custodial sexual conduct between prison or parole officers and their inmates or parolees, who are legally unable to consent to sexual contact with their custodians. Recently released data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that prison rape allegations have soared since national standards under PREA were developed in 2012.

Although there has been a focus on prisons, many states have not specifically barred sexual conduct between police officers and those they arrest. Several other states have not explicitly defined sexual contact between detainees and officers as nonconsensual.

At the time Chambers alleges she was assaulted, in September 2017, New York did not bar such sexual contact, allowing consent to be a potential defense the police officers could use under state law. There were 35 other states that also permitted police officers to use consent as a defense to sexual assault allegations.

“What I find surprising is that there are still so many states that haven’t interpreted or extended the law explicitly,” Smith said. “It’s such a natural extension, and it’s consistent with our evolving standards of power, especially from people in positions of authority.”

On March 29, six months after the alleged attack on Chambers, New York lawmakers passed a bill that criminalized any sexual encounter — consensual or nonconsensual — between an officer and an individual in his or her custody.

The new legislation has sparked a national conversation, with other states passing or currently considering similar legislation: In May, Maryland passed a law prohibiting police officers from having any sexual contact with detainees; Kansas and Louisiana enacted comparable laws soon thereafter; and nine other states also have proposed or pending bills to close the “sexual assault loophole,” according to data from Quorum.

Chambers’s accusations against New York police officers predated the disclosures and outrage seen in the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault case. The #MeToo movement has since developed into a powerful social force; the #PoliceToo hashtag also has begun trending as officer misconduct is pushed into public view.

“Police sexual misconduct takes place in different shapes and forms. It needs to stop,” David said.

Some advocates maintain that #MeToo has yet to include “us too.”

“#MeToo assumes you have access to even put up the hashtag,” Smith said. Women who spend their lives in conflict with the law and in positions of peril — immigration, in detention, in prison — have been invisible. “These laws are for women where it is just a feature of their daily experience: women of color, who are poor, who don’t have status.”

The new custodial consent law has little to do with Martins and Hall, Guadagnino and Bederow said.

"That the law in New York now unequivocally forbids such contact in any circumstances has no bearing on the issues in this case,” Bederow said. “We look forward for the truth to be exposed at trial.”

They are due back in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Nov. 5, when a trial date is expected to be set.

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