The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission final report is grim reading, especially the finding that prisoners report more rape committed by guards than by other prisoners.
More than 7.3 million Americans are confined in U.S. correctional facilities or supervised in the community, at a cost of more than $68 billion annually. Given our country's enormous investment in corrections, we should ensure that these environments are as safe and productive as they can be. Sexual abuse undermines those goals. It makes correctional environments more dangerous for staff as well as prisoners, consumes scarce resources, and undermines rehabilitation. It also carries the potential to devastate the lives of victims. The many interrelated consequences of sexual abuse for individuals and society are difficult to pinpoint and nearly impossible to quantify, but they are powerfully captured in individual accounts of abuse and its impact.
Former prisoner Necole Brown told the Commission, "I continue to contend with flashbacks of what this correctional officer did to me and the guilt, shame, and rage that comes with having been sexually violated for so many years. I felt lost for a very long time struggling with this. . . . I still struggle with the memories of this ordeal and take it out on friends and family who are trying to be there for me now."
Air Force veteran Tom Cahill, who was arrested and detained for just a single night in a San Antonio jail, recalled the lasting effects of being gang-raped and beaten by other inmates. "I've been hospitalized more times than I can count and I didn't pay for those hospitalizations, the tax payers paid. My career as a journalist and photographer was completely derailed. . . . For the past two decades, I've received a non-service connected security pension from the Veteran's Administration at the cost of about $200,000 in connection with the only major trauma I've ever suffered, the rape." …
Victims and witnesses often are bullied into silence and harmed if they speak out. In a letter to the advocacy organization Just Detention International, one prisoner conveyed a chilling threat she received from the male officer who was abusing her: "Remember if you tell anyone anything, you'll have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life." Efforts to promote reporting must be accompanied by policies and protocols to protect victims and witnesses from retaliation. And because some incarcerated individuals will never be comfortable reporting abuse internally, facilities must give prisoners the option of speaking confidentially with a crisis center or other outside agency.