The New York City Police Department is "failing sexual assault victims across the city," two Brooklyn women alleged Thursday in a lawsuit that accused the nation’s largest police department of a "male-dominated culture" unwilling to address "an entrenched gender bias."
Jennifer Welch Demski and Alison Turkos said they were ridiculed and mistreated by the NYPD’s Special Victims Division when they came forward with allegations of sexual assault, according to the complaint.
Turkos and Welch are seeking unspecified damages from the city, which they accused of creating a deficient investigative infrastructure. In addition to the City of New York, the lawsuit names New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan and Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea.
"The NYPD has been criticized for years for failing sexual assault victims who are brave enough to come forward and report to the police,” said Mariann Wang, the attorney with Cuti Hecker Wang LLP representing Welch and Turkos. "Time and again, women have been treated aggressively by untrained and biased officers, being asked -- in the midst of their trauma and at a moment when they expect support -- why they went on a date or why they wore a skirt or a dress, as if they should have expected to be sexually assaulted."
Welch reported in January, 2016, that she had been sexually assaulted by a man six months prior only to be told by an officer at her local precinct "that she had not in fact been raped," the complaint alleges.
"The sergeant commented that Ms. Welch looked attractive in her driver’s license photograph and dismissed her claims of having been assaulted by observing that he frequently has sex with his wife while she is asleep and that his wife does not report such conduct as rape," the lawsuit states.
Welch pursued her claim, bolstered by a recent report from the New York City Department of Investigation that detailed shortcomings of the Special Victims Division, but said she was told the district attorney’s office would not prosecute, according to the complaint.
“The NYPD had failed her,” the lawsuit stated.
In October 2017, Turkos reported she was kidnapped by a Lyft driver, taken to a location in New Jersey and "viciously and brutally raped at gunpoint," according to the complaint.
What followed, the lawsuit states, "was an exceedingly frustrating several months" with an NYPD special victims detective before her case was turned over to the FBI.
"The FBI has told Ms. Turkos that certain deficiencies in the way the NYPD handled the investigation initially … had severe and significant negative impacts on her case," the lawsuit said.
In a statement, the police department defended its conduct and affirmed its commitment to improve.
"The NYPD is committed to doing anything and everything to ensure survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward and help the NYPD bring them the justice they deserve," the statement read.
"Over the last 10 months, the NYPD has made major improvements to strengthen the Special Victims Division with a victim-centered approach, including new leadership, significant policy enhancements, facility improvements and deepened training to amplify our ability to respond effectively to survivors, while continuing to conduct full and thorough investigations. NYPD leadership continues to meet with survivors, advocates, elected officials and other partners to solicit feedback, which has been an important part of the bureau-wide review," the statement added.