On the evening of July 26, a woman on vacation in New Orleans called the police to inform them of an unconscious woman being raped on a street corner in the French Quarter. In newly-released audio of the woman’s call with 911, which Nola.com and The Lens obtained on Monday, she can be heard reporting the incident, alerting a cop parked a block away about what’s going on, and crying as she describes watching the rapist leaving the scene.
“There’s a woman that’s unconscious and there’s a man that’s having sex with her in the blatant open,” the woman tells the officer in the car. Then, to the 911 dispatcher, she says, “I’m gonna get up there faster than the fucking cop is.” The call is hard to listen to and drags on at almost a full six minutes. Most glaringly, over the course of the call, there seems to be absolutely no sense of urgency from the law enforcement officers involved—not the dispatcher, not the cop in the car, no one. In the words of the caller: “What the fuck are y’all doing?”
On August 11, New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson held a press conference to try and clear up some confusion around the incident. (If you ask me, there’s nothing confusing about multiple cops ignoring a blatant and ongoing rape, but go on.) Apparently, the individual Woodsen approached in the car was not a New Orleans Police Department officer, but a Second City Court deputy constable who wearing a police uniform and “working a paid detail for a movie shoot nearby,” as Fox 8 reports. Per the story:
Edwin Shorty, the Constable of Second City Court, says the uniformed deputy was working a paid detail for a movie shoot nearby and has been suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
“I do not think the complainant was being malicious towards the New Orleans Police Department. She thought she was speaking to a police officer. Unfortunately, some of our uniforms are similar in nature,” Ferguson said. “She was not speaking to a police officer at that time.”
Even considering this technicality, the Washington Post has pointed out that as a constable, the Louisiana peace officer—whose main responsibilities include “handling evictions, property seizures, and subpoenas”—still has full arresting powers and should have taken action when Woodsen asked for his help.
Shortly after the incident, the caller shared an account of the night on a Twitter thread that’s since sparked nationwide outrage. In addition to the constable who did not respond to her, the caller tweeted that two New Orleans Police Department officers also drove by and completely “ignored the situation.” She posted that she was an ER respiratory therapist, (though her occupation has not been confirmed,) and that when she made contact with the woman she was “pulseless,” but regained a pulse after “I pulled her into a flat position to begin CPR.”
When two different NOPD officers responding to the 911 call finally made it to the scene, they reportedly “further stated that they needed the (unconscious) woman to state herself that she was being raped despite more than a dozen bystanders reporting the rape and the victim being physically unable to remember the details of the assault against her,” according to the caller’s tweet.
Since the incident, the caller has remained vigilant in holding city officials accountable for their gross inaction. On August 11, the woman published an open letter to Mayor LaToya Cantrell in The Lens under the pseudonym Kaila Jane Woodsen. The open letter is a follow-up to an unanswered email she wrote Cantrell on August 5 after watching the mayor’s press briefing from the day before. Cantrell opened the briefing expressing disappointment in her constituents, claiming that the “negative talk regarding [their police] department [...] hit home” and questioning why they were “feeding into the national narrative around policing.” She said it has caused some officers to “rethink the profession.”
No matter the outcome of this particular investigation, this egregious mishandling of a rape incident sends the message to people everywhere that sexual assault cases still aren’t taken as seriously as they should be, and that police presence isn’t always the answer...to anything.