Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: NYPD Rape Comments Are the Real ‘Total Abomination’

Martha Kempner

A Brooklyn police captain puts acquaintance rapes lower on his priority list than sexual assaults by strangers; an implant to prevent HIV is now in development; and a Japanese cartoon character fights evil—and a burgeoning syphilis problem in the nation.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

New York Officer “Not Too Worried” About Acquaintance Rapes 

In 2016, 13 sexual assaults in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood were reported to the New York City Police Department, up from eight the previous year. Ten of those cases remain unsolved.

Explaining why there hasn’t been more police action on these cases, Captain Peter Rose, who heads the 94th Precinct, gave us a glimpse of what sexual assault survivors may face when they take their cases to law enforcement. Rose told DNAinfo:

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Every rape should be investigated. I wish we could do more … It really becomes a balancing act for the investigators. Some of them were Tinder, some of them were hookup sites, some of them were actually co-workers. It’s not a trend that we’re too worried about because out of 13 [sex attacks], only two were true stranger rapes … If there’s a true stranger rape, a random guy picks up a stranger off the street, those are the troubling ones. That person has, like, no moral standards.

Rose later elaborated about the unsolved crimes at a community meeting. And it didn’t get any better.

“They’re not total-abomination rapes where strangers are being dragged off the streets,” he said.

As outrageous as these comments are, they are not surprising. Sexual assault has always been placed on some kind of bizarre, moralistic scale where people weigh the behavior of both the assailant and the victim to determine just how big a deal the crime really is. In this warped thinking, innocent women who are minding their own business when someone jumps out of the bushes deserve all of our sympathy. Those who had the audacity to go back to a man’s apartment after a work event or hook up with a stranger on Tinder are clearly less worthy.

We have heard it all before. Who can forget the explanation of former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MI) of why women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape”?

Decades of efforts to educate the public and politicians about rape have helped many people understand that there are no qualifiers to rape, moral or otherwise. Akin’s comments, for example, were denounced by members of both parties, including President Obama, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, now speaker of the House of Representatives.

Similarly, Rose’s comments were immediately slapped down by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. In a statement, de Blasio’s press secretary, Eric Phillips, explained that the captain’s view did not represent the views of the city or the NYPD: “Rape is rape, in New York City and everywhere else. The crime merits no moral qualification and does not involve shades of criminality or degrees of danger.” Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis, a spokesperson for the police department, told the NY Daily News: “All complaints of rape and other types of sexual crimes are taken seriously whether they are committed by domestic partners, acquaintances, or strangers.”

The bad news is that none of these politicians or spokespeople are on the front lines when sexual assault survivors report the crimes against them. Instead, they are often greeted by people such as Captain Rose and those who work for him.

This Week in Sex hopes most police officers do not share Rose’s view that only certain rapes deserve further investigation. But, in many cases, law enforcement officials have been skeptical of acquaintance rape, and sexual assault survivors themselves are often left feeling judged. After hearing these comments, future crime victims in Greenpoint (or anywhere else) may not believe they’ll be taken seriously if the details of their case do not meet the “total abomination” standard.

HIV Prevention Drug Could Come in an Implant

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing millions of dollars into HIV prevention in the hopes of making pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—medication that can keep HIV-negative individuals from contracting the virus—easier for people at risk across the globe.

Currently, PrEP is available in the form of the pill Truvada, which combines two drugs used to keep HIV-positive individuals healthy. Research has shown that when taken by those who do not have the virus, this once-daily pill reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent and reduces the risk among people who inject drugs by more than 70 percent. But PrEP’s efficacy has varied—a study among men who have sex with men in California found no infections among more than 600 participants, but a drug trial among women in Africa actually ended prematurely because of lack of efficacy.

Researchers suspect that the daily demands of Truvada may be a barrier to success. Some people who could benefit from the drug may be wary of taking on something they have to do seven days a week. Those who are on Truvada may forget to take their medicine while others may have problems accessing a continuous supply.

The Gates Foundation believes that an implant could help solve at least some of these problems. It has agreed to invest up to $140 million into an implant called the Medici Drug Delivery System, which is currently being developed by a Boston-based company. This device, which lasts one year, is not the only PrEP implant under development, but it has already been through some clinical trials as a way to deliver diabetes medicine.

As we’ve seen with contraception, implants can increase efficacy by taking user error out of the equation. The birth control pill has a typical use failure rate of about 9 percent, but the contraceptive implant Nexplanon has a typical use failure rate of just 0.05 percent. Perhaps an implantable version of PrEP could do the same for HIV-prevention.

A Superhero and Syphilis Awareness in Japan

Syphilis rates in Japan are on the rise, and the government hopes that popular anime character Sailor Moon can help spread awareness about this sexually transmitted infection (STI), which can damage the brain and internal organs in its most advanced stage.

Sailor Moon is one of the most popular anime characters in Japan. She is a pig-tailed, blonde schoolgirl who can transform into a hero to fight evil, and she commands her own army of female “sailor guardians.”

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Japan reported that 4,077 people had contracted the bacterial infection by the end of November 2016. This is a huge jump from the 2,697 cases reported in 2015. And, just five years earlier in 2011, there were only 827 cases in Japan.

Once on the verge of elimination, syphilis is also making a comeback in the United States with more than 23,000 cases in 2015. More half the cases in this country in 2015 were among men who have sex with men, and less than 10 percent were among women.

The epidemic in Japan looks a little different. There were 2,848 cases among men and 1,229 cases among women in 2016. While there were still more cases of the infection among men, cases among women rose faster between 2015 and 2016, and women in their 20s were found to be particularly at risk.

The government is hoping that Sailor Moon can reach this group in particular. Sailor Moon has a wide reach as the subject of television shows, movies, books, video games, and even musicals. As a spokesperson for STI prevention, Sailor Moon is appearing on condoms wrappers, pamphlets, and posters. Building on the character’s catchphrase “In the name of the moon, I punish you,” the posters say, “If you don’t get tested, you will be punished.” Though the slogan seems a little harsh and negative to us here at This Week in Sex, perhaps Sailor Moon can get away with it.

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