Newswatch 16 Investigates: The Consent Defense

Three former police officers in our area stand accused of using their position to coerce women into sex. Unlike other authority figures who face similar accusations, cops have an advantage in their defense.

They were supposed to protect people. They wore badges and carried guns.

Former Ashley police officer Mark Icker, former Wilkes-Barre police officer Robert Collins, and former Mount Pocono Regional Police Cpl. Steven Mertz are now accused of using their position of authority to force women to have sex.

"It's completely unprofessional. It's completely immoral, and honestly, just disgusting," said Antonia Kontz of Scranton.

Kontz says she was once pulled over by a police officer at night in Lackawanna County. She said no to a cop who she claims told her sex would get her out of a speeding ticket.

"It's just very wrong, and it makes you feel afraid," Kontz said.

Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says police officers charged with a sex crime while on duty should not be able to claim that sex with people in their custody is consensual. Corrections officers cannot claim consent in a relationship with an inmate, nor can a high school teacher involved with a student, even if that student is legally an adult.

But state law does not prevent police from using consent as a defense.

"In some relationships, the power imbalance is so significant, that it neutralizes the concept of consent," Houser said. "There's no scenario that we can think of, that that would be a reasonable time and place that somebody would consent. That's just not part of the job."

State Representative Chris Rabb of Philadelphia has introduced a bill to eliminate the consent defense for public safety officers.

"This is something that doesn't have any vocal opposition. My concern is the deafening silence. Where are all those stakeholders when we talk about law enforcement?" asked State Rep. Chris Rabb, (D) Philadelphia.

We tried several times to contact the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police, which represents unionized police officers across the state. We have not heard back.

"This loophole is in 35 states, most states, so I'm not surprised because police do have a lot of power," said Madison Levinson, an activist who led a protest in front of the Lackawanna County Prison after several corrections officers were charged with sexually assaulting female inmates.

By law, those corrections officers could not claim their relationships were consensual.

And, Levinson says, neither should police.

"I believe most people don't want cops to have this power."

"It's a perfect 'get out of jail free' card. It's an alibi," Kontz added.

The three police officers in our region facing charges have not yet had to decide if they will use the consent defense if their cases go to trial.

Former Ashley and Sugar Notch police officer Mark Icker may decide soon. He is scheduled to go to trial in Luzerne County next month.

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