Nine months ago, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission released a report of proposed national standards for the “prevention, detection, and response to sexual abuse in confinement settings”—-in other words, a path toward ending prison rape.
In order to achieve that goal, the commission has laid down a list of proposed standards for U.S. facilities housing men, women, and juveniles. Among them: That facilities adopt a “zero tolerance” policy “toward all forms of sexual abuse”; that staff be trained to identify its warning signs and respond to them; that prisoners be assessed for their “risk of being sexually abused by other inmates or sexually abusive toward other inmates”; that institutions implement sufficient surveillance procedures and technologies with an eye at preventing abuse; and that they keep records of assault rates inside their facilities.
Prison rape can be prevented, and some corrections authorities are already moving to implement the commission’s standards in an attempt to do just that. But other corrections leaders have shot back with one major complaint—-ending prison rape sounds expensive.
The New Mexico Corrections Department submitted this in response to the proposed standards:
A simple cost-benefit analysis shows that when weighed against the twelve million dollar cost of compliance, non-compliance would be much cheaper. To be clear, the Department has every intention of complying with whatever standards are ultimately approved, but the fact remains that compliance with the currently proposed standards would be very expensive.
The Alabama Department of Corrections estimated that implementing these standards would cost the state $58 million dollars, but that the state could cut costs by keeping the definition of “prison rape” limited:
We strongly recommend the use of the statutory definition of “rape,” as directed by PREA. The term “sexual abuse” is much too broad and encompassing of incidences such as verbal harassment which is not the intent of PREA. That type of behavior is certainly not condoned and is managed through state departmental administrative disciplinary actions and procedures. The purposes of PREA as detailed in section three of the law, is to provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations, and funding to protect individuals from prison rape, not “sexual abuse.”
Also submitting public comments on this issue are the commission’s supporters, who believe that the price of preventing the sexual abuse of prisoners is not too high. Below are the personal statements of six men and women who have survived sexual abuse in U.S. prisons. Each of them have come forward to publicly and explicitly detail the abuse they suffered at the hands of corrections officers and fellow prisoners, and urge the Department of Justice to institute the commission’s standards:
After being convicted of a drug charge, Marilyn Shirley served time in the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Tx., from Jan. 1998 to Sept. 2000. Six months before being released, she was raped by a corrections officer. She writes:
I was a model prisoner; I took all of the required Bureau of Prisons courses and never had an incident report written against me. In fact, I was rewarded with time credited for good behavior. Upon my release, I walked away with a $250 check from the Bureau of Prisons and a permanently devastated emotional and mental state as a result of my rape.
In March 2000, I was awakened at approximately 3:30 a.m. by prison guard Michael Miller, a Senior Officer of the Bureau of Prisons. He told me, in the presence of my roommates, that I was wanted at the officer’s station. In the officer’s station, Miller made a phone call stating that if a Lieutenant heads for the Camp to give him ‘the signal.’
After hanging up the phone, Miller started forcing himself on me, kissing me and groping my breasts. I was pushed into a storeroom. He continued to assault me; the more that I begged and pleaded for him to stop, the more violent he became. He tried to force me to perform oral sex on him. He then threw me against the wall and violently raped me.
I can still remember him whispering in my ear during the rape: “Do you think you’re the only one? Don’t even think of telling, because it’s your word against mine, and you will lose.” Miller also said to me “who do you think they will believe, an inmate or a fine upstanding officer like me?”
The ordeal was finally over after Miller received the abrupt signal of someone clearing their throat over his radio, signaling that someone was coming. I later learned there are no security cameras in the officer’s station.
After returning to my room, I took off my sweatpants and put them in plastic and hid them in my locker.
Soon after, I confided in my welding boss that Officer Miller had raped me. I asked her not to tell anyone because I didn’t want anything to interfere with my release date and I was afraid of what Miller would do to me if I reported it. I also told one of my roommates, and I swore her to secrecy, too.
I stayed silent for months. Having nowhere to hide, I went to sleep every night not knowing if he was going to come for me again. Following the rape, Officer Miller harassed, intimidated and threatened me in many direct and indirect ways.
I lived in fear, until I was released from prison in September 2000. That day, I brought my sweatpants to the Carswell camp administrator and told her about the rape. I gave statements and answered questions. The semen-stained sweatpants were taken as evidence to the FBI Crime Lab. I was then given a lie detector test, which I passed.
About three years after my release Officer Miller was found guilty of rape.
Now that I am out of prison, I am left with the devastating impact of the rape. I have paralyzing panic attacks. I can’t even hold my grandbaby because I’m afraid of having a panic attack and dropping her. I can’t do some of the basic things, like watch certain TV shows, or go over high freeway overpasses because I start to panic.
I have awful nightmares and sometimes I wet the bed as a result. Sometimes my husband has to come and pull me out of the closet, where I go when I have these attacks. We have been married for 30 years, but I haven’t been able to be intimate with my husband since the rape. Sometimes, I fear that he will all of a sudden want an intimacy that I am unable to give.
When I was first released, I had a job. My boss was very understanding about my situation, but it got to a point where I could not work anymore. So I am now unable to work.
I sometimes fear that Officer Miller is going to come after me. He is scheduled to be released soon and I am very scared that he will come after me. I’m afraid this is never going to go away.
I sometimes wonder about other victims who aren’t so lucky, either because they are still inside, or because they don’t have evidence to confront their attackers. The sooner that you pass standards like those developed by the Commission the more sexual abuse can be prevented.
Scott Howard-Smith was repeatedly raped and forced into prostitution by his fellow prisoners after being convicted of “state theft charges and federal tax code violations” and incarcerated in a Colorado state facility. He writes:
Members of the 2-11 Crew, a white supremacist gang, had seen some news reports about my crimes. They tried to get me to fraudulently obtain money for them from the IRS, but I refused. When they learned that I was gay, they increased their threats and became violent.
One gang member forced me to perform oral sex on other inmates to pay off his debts. After contacting a friend on the outside, I was transferred to another state facility. I told three case managers there that I needed protection from the 2-11 Crew, but they said that I needed to name names. I knew that if I provided the names of members of this large and powerful gang, I would be in further danger. So nothing was done and I was again raped and forced to perform oral sex on gang members.
I spent many months trying to get protection by writing to officials. I was told that I could enter Administrative Segregating only if I provided a taped statement against the gang members. In early 2006, I finally decided to identify the gang members who raped me and forced me into prostitution. On the day that I was released from state custody in September 2007, I was placed in a holding cell with one of my assailants. He beat me and forced me to perform oral sex, calling me a snitch for reporting him to prison officials.
If the Commission’s standards had been in place when I was incarcerated, so much of what happened to me could have been prevented. I would have been provided with protection, without naming names. I also could have received some much-needed counseling. Even once I did report, my efforts to report were mostly fruitless and put me at greater risk. Because I am openly gay, officials blamed me for the attacks. They said that as a homosexual I should expect to be targeted by one gang or another. They never recognized that, rather than instigating the abuse, I was actually far more vulnerable because of my sexuality. The officials to whom I reported, even when they were not hostile to me, still did not know how to react. They simply did not know what to do with me and failed to take even the most basic measures. When I finally provided testimony against a gang member, I was later put in the same cell with him anyway.
Staff need to be educated about this problem and what they can do to protect inmates. There was already a PREA coordinator at the facility where I was, but no one knew anything about PREA. The officers only wanted perpetrator names, they did not know how to help me. When I was too afraid to name assailants, they did not know who to contact, they did not know what to do with my reports. Safe, confidential counseling must also be available and not dependant on naming assailants. The facility only provided group therapy. Having been targeted by a large gang, I was too afraid to address my assaults with other inmates. I was told that if I chose to refuse group therapy that was my choice and I would not be provided with any individual counseling.
Now that I am out, I am working with counselors at a nearby rape crisis center who have been incredibly supportive. However, I continue to have various medical problems stemming from this abuse. I have nightmares, suffer from paranoia, inability to eat at times and I take various medications for blood pressure, cardiac palpitations, and other anxiety-related problems. I am working with counselors at the local rape crisis center, and they have been very helpful. My case manager and U.S. Probation Officer are also supportive. Being targeted by a gang placed me at obvious risk for ongoing abuse but officials took no real actions to protect me. Vulnerable inmates are powerless and have no real way to be heard. Outsiders need to monitor what is happening in prisons, and inmates must have a way to contact them safely. In my case, not only could an ombudsperson have called attention to my abuse, but he or she could have provided suggestions for how to best protect me. To some extent, my abuse was indicative of how much control the gang had within Colorado facilities. Strong standards would not just have prevented my ordeal, but would have restored proper control to officials. Please pass the Commission’s standards without delay.
While serving time at a women’s prison work camp, Jan Lacostey was sexually harassed and then assaulted by a prison employee who openly stated that he enjoyed working in a prison because of the “power” it afforded him over others:
I was incarcerated in 1998 and soon transferred to a women’s prison work camp. I wound up working as a clerk at the warehouse for the men’s prison. I basically did a lot of secretarial and janitorial work.
After a couple months without problems, a new employee began working in the warehouse with us. Within two weeks of him arriving at the warehouse, the mood had changed. He was definitely a different type of person than what I was used to dealing with. He could take a joke or an innocent comment and make it nasty and dirty. It seemed like all of his “jokes” were sexual in nature and I immediately began to feel uncomfortable. He started to ask a lot of personal questions about my life; especially my sexual life with my husband.
Then he started to talk about how he liked all of the “power” that he had working inside the men’s prison. He made a big deal of talking about giving guys major tickets just because he didn’t like the way that they looked at him. A major ticket is a major offense or write-up that goes into your record and it can really mess you up. It can add time to your sentence, you can lose good time, you can lose privileges, you can even have to stop working. His favorite line was “I love the power it gives me.” That comment was enough to put the fear of god into any prisoner that heard him say it.
He then started asking me even more questions about my personal life. I normally would have just continued to ignore him or if I was still on the outside I would have immediately told someone. However, this was prison and this was a whole new ballgame. If he decided to write me a major ticket, it could have held me up for a very long time. All tickets are supposed to be heard within a specified time frame; however, this is not always true. A hearing can be delayed for many reasons, especially a sexual misconduct ticket.
In your notice, you request input on the definition of “prison rape.” My experience shows how important it is that the standards you are reviewing cover the full range of sexual abuse and staff sexual misconduct. In my case, sexual harassment was a direct precursor to this employee sexually assaulting me. If the administration had stopped his harassment when it started, I might never have been raped.
I had received my date to go to the Corrections Center near my home which would allow me to get back into counseling, get a job, and even go home for a few hours on the weekend to see my family. I knew that if I reported what he was doing to anyone or if he got wind of the fact that I was even thinking about reporting him, he would write me a major misconduct sexual act ticket and I would never get home! I kept thinking about the fact that the Warden at the Prison Camp was well known for saying that if an inmate reported an assault or rape or any type of sexual contact by a male guard or employee and there was no physical evidence such as DNA or a witness willing to testify, she would always believe the guard or employee over the inmate. How did I dare take my chances with that when I was so close to getting out of that horrid place?
It is extremely important that the leadership show by example and that the administration take sexual abuse seriously, responding appropriately and immediately to all reported incidents. As you can see by my story, the warden at that facility obviously did not show the needed leadership. The standards should require a “zero tolerance” policy at all facilities, but it has to be backed up with words and actions, and not just be a piece of paper that the officials ignore.
Considering all of the factors, I had to make the hardest decision of my life and weigh my options. I decided that it was more important to get back home to my family and try to get my life back on track. I decided that I would not tell anyone what had happened and I would keep it to myself. If it meant that I had to put up with being sexually assaulted and raped for another two months, I could do it as long as I could still go home the beginning of December.
At first he would just put his hands under my clothes. Then, he would demand that I perform oral sex. He would demand that I do other sexual acts for him. And all the time he was making me perform these degrading acts on him, he kept talking about how I must be missing my sex life with my husband.
Eventually, he said that he wanted more. He wanted to have intercourse with me. I told him that I didn’t want to do that and begged him to please not do this to me. He informed me that he could simply issue a major sexual conduct ticket and very snottily said “how long do you think it will take for you to get home then?”
After months of abuse, the day that I no longer had to see him finally arrived. I was going to the Center, one step closer to home! How was I to know that unfortunately, this was definitely not going to be the last time I would have to see him. His control over my life would continue for many, many more years following my release from prison.
It seemed that once I got on the bus leaving the prison and went to the Corrections Center, I put everything regarding him deep into the back of my mind. I didn’t tell anyone – not my husband, no one. I don’t think that I even thought about it myself. Maybe in some ways, not thinking about it was my way of dealing with it. If I didn’t think about it, then maybe it meant that it didn’t happen.
About 10 months after I was released from the prison, I was reporting to my parole officer. He asked me if I knew why Internal Affairs would want to talk to me. I said no I had no clue. He then asked me if I had ever had a problem with any of the guards or employees when I worked at the warehouse. I immediately burst into tears and I think that my heart literally stopped. I instantly knew that he was talking about him. I told him that yes, I had indeed had a problem with one of them.
Apparently, one of the female prisoners had finally decided that enough was enough, and she had gotten the guts to come forward with what he had been doing to her. This opened an investigation and once it reached a criminal investigation, Internal Affairs was involved. She had managed to get some DNA and turned it over to the officials. They ended up trying to find other inmates that worked at the warehouse and interviewing each one of them. I was the original victim and the last person interviewed.
I ended up having to meet with an inspector from Internal Affairs. He was a caring, respectful person. He never made me feel like I was less important because I had been a prisoner. He didn’t make me think that because I had been a prisoner I “deserved” to be raped. He let me know that I still had rights and that this person wouldn’t be allowed to get away with raping me and all of those other women – he would make sure of that.
I must admit that I had my doubts. I honestly didn’t think that anything would every come of it – after all, the females he had raped were “just prisoners” – and not as good as everyone else. We had no rights and I thought that we would just have to deal with it.
In the end though, I think the Internal Affairs inspectors, and later detectives with the Michigan State Police, did the right thing. They treated me like a human being, and they took the case seriously. Internal Affairs referred the case for prosecution. But I know this doesn’t always happen, which is why it’s important that the standards address things like training for staff, policies and protocols, and collaboration with outside agencies.
I am so much luckier than most Prison Rape victims. I had a fantastic support system. I got into counseling and it truly helped. After 10 years, I still periodically see my counselor. I had been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder shortly before becoming incarcerated and have now been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. To this day, I still take medication to allow me to sleep without having nightmares.
Once he was charged criminally, I ended up having to go through a criminal trial. This wasn’t simply a quick simple deal. This defendant managed to drag the criminal trial out for over 5 years! He was finally sent to prison and is now on the Sex Offender Registry. While he was incarcerated I constantly wondered if anyone was threatening him with a Major Misconduct Ticket if he didn’t do what they wanted. But I couldn’t wish that on even him. Not only did we end up actually having two trials, while testifying and talking about it, forced me to have to relive the nightmares of being raped in prison.
Watching the other victims during the trial, meeting them and hearing their stories brought to light an entirely new issue. I also had to deal with the fact of knowing that since I was the first victim, if I had only had the courage to say something, none of the other victims would have been raped. If only there was a way that would have allowed me to report these instances of rape to someone – not just inside the prison system – but outside the system! The standards have to ensure that victims can report abuse without fear of repercussion. I also feel it is important to have outsiders checking on prisons to make sure they are doing the right thing, and not sweeping these cases under the rug – the standards need to have a way to hold prison officials accountable for protecting inmates.
Imagine all of the pain, heartbreak and suffering that could have been avoided if there was someway to report sexual assaults where you could be assured someone would take you seriously? It is not acceptable that a prison can ignore a complaint of abuse, deem it unfounded without enough evidence or even retaliate against the prisoner lodging the complaint. There needs to be some sort of checks and balances – such as the standards – in place so that you can stop the abuse that continues to occur. You have the opportunity to implement the changes that can prevent this. I implore you to make these changes and to do them as soon as possible.
The Wardens and all of the prison system need to know that those incarcerated in the prison system are still people who can be raped! Please understand the importance of immediately implementing the standards that the Commission is recommending and do everything in your power to stop the repeated rape of prisoners – male and female. As one of the intake guards told us when I entered prison, there aren’t really that many “bad people,” there are just “people who make bad mistakes.” Remember, the prisoners are still people, they have wives, husbands, children and parents just like anyone else.
Barrilee Bannister was sexually abused by both male and female officers while in prison on a second-degree robbery conviction in Florence, Arizona:
I was sexually harassed and abused while in a private prison, and I urge you to take strong action to prevent this torture from happening to any other women.
In 1995, I was arrested on two charges of second degree robbery and sentenced to serve 140 months in the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Due to overcrowding in the state prison system, Oregon contracted with the Corrections Corporation of America to house a large percentage of the state’s female prison population. I was one of 78 women who were sent to a men’s facility in Florence, Arizona. We were housed in a separate unit from the men, but their presence was strongly felt, and at times we could see them and they could see us. I immediately felt that the facility was not prepared to house us safely.
When we first entered the facility, the 77 other women and I were paraded down a long corridor where male officers gawked, whistled, and made lewd comments at us. After we had all settled into our cells, an officer came and ushered us into the shower area where we were strip searched by female officers. During the search, I looked up and noticed that male guards were standing on the top tier of the unit looking down at us as we stood there, naked. There was a short wall separating the shower area from the rest of the unit, but if you stood on the walkway of the second tier, you had an unobstructed view of the showers. Several of us complained to the female officers who were performing the strip searches, but they laughed at us and refused to ask the men to leave.
The abuse only got worse when I was in the medical isolation cell area. Six women were housed in one small cell. One night, a captain came into the cell, took out a marijuana cigarette, and smoked it with us. Afterwards, he handed another marijuana cigarette to one of the other women and told us to save it for later. Minutes after he left, the captain returned with five or six other male officers and told us that the cell was going to be searched for contraband. We were warned that if anything illegal was found, our property would be confiscated and we might face criminal charges.
One officer told us that we could avoid the search and any resulting charges by putting on a strip show. Fearing that the marijuana cigarette that the captain had provided minutes earlier would result in additional charges, several of us danced and stripped for the officers, who watched and laughed. From that day on, the officers would walk by the segregation cell and demand that we lift up our shirts to bare our breasts.
I really wanted to report the officers, but there was no way to do so without running the risk of retaliation. To keep us in line, the officers frequently threatened to charge us with violations, saying that they would make sure we remained in segregation for a long time if we did not comply with their demands.
Several weeks later, I was put into a solitary “dry cell,” which meant that it had no running water. For two days, no one checked on me or gave me food and, because there was no water, I could not get a drink from the sink or flush the toilet.
Finally, a male corrections officer checked on me. After I told him that I had been in the cell without any food or water for two days, he brought his lunch to my cell and asked if I wanted to eat with him. From that day forward, he would check on me almost every day.
After several weeks of him visiting my cell, the officer leaned over and kissed me. I did not want for him to kiss me, and I tried to laugh it off. I feared that if I turned down his advances I would be placed back on dry cell status, with no food or running water. He started kissing me whenever he came to visit and eventually forced me to perform oral sex on him.
A rumor had spread through the facility that I was pregnant. I’m not sure how the rumor got started, but medical staff forced me to provide a urine sample that they could use to test for pregnancy. They did not ask me any questions, offer me any support, or seem at all concerned for my well-being. That same night, three guards came into my cell, sprayed me in the face with mace, handcuffed me behind my back, threw me down on the ground, and said, “We hear you are pregnant by one of ours and we’re gonna make sure you abort.” The two female guards began to kick me as the male guard stood watch. The beating lasted about a minute, but it felt like ten or more. Afterwards, the male officer uncuffed me and they left.
Once back in general population, I contacted a friend and asked him to immediately visit me to take pictures of bruises on my body that were the result of the beating. He was not allowed to bring his camera into the facility, but I felt relieved that somebody on the outside knew what had happened. I started contacting outside organizations and letting them know what was going on inside the prison. Some of the organizations that I contacted went to the media and bombarded the prison with phone calls and letters. Eventually, the CCA and the Florence Police Department began investigating the facility.
The investigation confirmed that sexual misconduct had taken place at the facility. The 78 of us were sent back to the Oregon Women’s Correctional Center in Salem. According to one newspaper article, at least a dozen officers from the CCA facility were terminated. Charges were filed against two of the officers, including the man who had forced me to perform oral sex.
I spent almost a year in Arizona, and during that time, I did not receive any medical or mental health care. Oregon lacked enough space to house its female prison population safely, so I was continuously moved around until 2001, when I was transferred to the newly built Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon. I wanted to see a counselor, and repeatedly requested mental health treatment at Coffee Creek. The officials did not allow me to see the mental health counselor until a lymph node disorder caused me to experience severe paranoia and hallucinations.
There was only one counselor at the facility and she did not seem accustomed to dealing with survivors of sexual violence. Although I very much wanted to speak with her about what I endured in Arizona, she mostly offered me medication. When I did have the opportunity to speak with the counselor, our sessions were closely monitored and I never felt comfortable speaking openly about what had happened to me in Arizona. I really would have benefited from being able to talk to a rape crisis counselor with experience in dealing with issues of sexual violence.
I started turning more and more to my support system on the outside. I stayed in close contact with several of the feminist organizations that had helped bring attention to the abuse in Arizona, and it was only with their help that I was able to let go of some of the anger I was experiencing.
Being able to contact people on the outside made a significant difference for me. In addition to the individuals and organizations that helped secure an investigation at CCA and provided me with support through the remainder of my incarceration, I was able to find an attorney in Oregon to represent me in a federal lawsuit. The case was eventually settled. CCA officials admitted wrongdoing and gave me and the 77 other women an apology. We did not receive any monetary compensation.
However, steps should have been taken to prevent the abuse in the first place. Male officers need to be closely monitored when in female units and should not be allowed to see female prisoners when they aren’t fully dressed. Female officers knew about the male officers’ actions but seemed to accept it as part of the culture.
Harassment must be taken as seriously as other forms of abuse. The officers’ bad behavior at CCA began with gawking and lewd comments, then to forced strip shows, and for me it ultimately resulted in forced oral sex. Without facing any consequences for their harassment, the officers knew that they could do whatever they wanted.
I fear for abused prisoners who are not as lucky as I was, and who may not have access to the outside support that I had. The standards’ requirement that all survivors of sexual assault in detention have access to confidential support from an outside rape crisis counselor is very important. Prison mental health staff also need proper training on how to provide appropriation response to a sexual assault victim.
Ongoing harassment and abuse should not have been part of my sentence. Please pass strong standards so that current inmates are protected from sexual abuse and are treated properly if they are raped.
While spending time in juvenile detention centers and adult prisons, Troy Erik Isaac was repeatedly raped by fellow prisoners:
My name is Troy Erik Isaac. I’m a 36 year old male. I am writing to encourage you to adopt swiftly the standards developed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
I identify as transgender. I think and feel like a woman. I’ve spent most of my adolescent year’s in juvenile hall, youth authority, from 12 to 18. I was raped numerous times by fellow inmates, and even was assaulted by a fellow prisoner incarcerated for rape. Frankly I was never supposed to be around a prisoner convicted of rape in this case.
I went on to serve a total of 15 years in adult prison from ages 19 to 34. Again I was raped and abused by prisoners and staff lacked the training to handle rape cases and often looked the other way or ignored me.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a very vital tool to combat sexual assaults and rape of juvenile offenders and adult offenders, like myself. The sooner the PREA standards are adopted the sooner prison officials will get the training and understanding to combat and eliminate rape from harming youth offenders and adult offenders, and staff.
Please pass the Commission’s standards quickly so that others do not have to suffer the abuse I already experienced.
Frank Mendoza was never convicted of a crime and only spent two weeks in jail. But it was enough time for a corrections officer to sexually assault him:
I experienced a brutal sexual assault when I was in jail for a non-violent offense. I am writing to express my strong support for the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape. Even though I was never convicted of a crime, I received a life sentence of pain and hurt from the abuse I suffered at the hands of a guard.
In 2006, I was fired from my job at a law firm and was arrested for public drunkenness. I was transferred from the Orange County Jail to the Los Angeles County Jail. I was scared of other inmates, but did not know at the time that I had more reason to fear the staff. While at the Los Angeles County Jail, I was repeatedly harassed by corrections officers because I was openly gay. Officers would verbally abuse and taunt me, and nothing I did would make them leave me alone. After one particularly humiliating incident, I tried to defend myself. In response, one of the officers threatened to hurt me. I had no idea he would actually carry out those threats and get away with it. I believe my rape was premeditated.
At the time, I was housed in Administrative Segregation. A day or two after I was threatened, all of the officers in the watchtower left and it got eerily quiet. That is when the officer who threatened me entered my cell and severely beat and digitally raped me. When the officer on the next shift saw me naked and bloodied in my cell, he asked what happened. I told him I was raped and he just told me to get dressed, but never followed up on my report. The inmate in the cell next to mine heard the attack, but he wasn’t willing to help me or to testify against the officer, for fear that it might happen to him too.
Survivors need multiple avenues to report a sexual assault, especially if they were raped by a staff member. Inmates cannot be expected to report abuse to an officer who works closely with the perpetrator. I told an officer what happened to me, but nothing was ever done. Because of the “code of silence,” officers refused to report on one another, leaving me without any options to seek help. For that reason, it is critically important that the standards include an option for survivors to report to someone on the outside, so that facilities will be forced to take reports of sexual violence seriously.
The standards should also make sure that rape in jail is investigated like rape in the community. I was denied a forensic exam, which made it almost impossible to collect any evidence from the rape. No one ever provided me with any treatment for my injuries, even though I was badly beaten. I never spoke with a counselor or mental health staff member and was left to suffer alone in my cell. If I had access to these services, I could have been spared years of needless suffering and pain.
I was only in the jail for two weeks, but I was very traumatized by the attack. I was virtually homeless, but I was determined to seek justice in my case. I went to the Rampart Police Station to report the rape and did everything I could do move it forward. But nothing ever came of it. Without a forensic exam or any kind of evidence from the assault, building a criminal case against the officer was virtually impossible. As far as I know, he still works at the jail.
I was released from the jail four years ago and am working hard to put my life together. I currently live in Los Angeles and have been seeing a therapist for two years and also meet regularly with a psychologist. Healing from the wounds of the sexual assault is hard work, but I am determined to move on with my life. Prisoner rape is not just a statistic for those of us who have lived through it, it is a life shattering experience. This violence has to stop and I ask you to pass the standards quickly so that others do not have to experience the abuse that I endured.
Does eliminating prison rape sound like an investment worth making? On May 10, the comment period on these standards will close. Just Detention International encourages supporters of the standards to submit their comments online:
It is crucial that people who care about ending sexual abuse behind bars submit comments. We know that corrections officials and their lobbyists will weigh in en masse. During the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission’s public comment period in 2008, on a draft version of the standards, more than 100 corrections departments and associations submitted comments objecting to the standards. Supportive public comments are vital to ensuring that the Attorney General promulgates strong standards.
Supporters of the proposed standards can also sign JDI’s online petition to have their names included in JDI’s comments to the Department of Justice.