We can stop the epidemic. Why haven’t we?

Filed Under News | By Linda Hunter 

This epidemic is hidden, literally behind bars.  Just Detention International (JDI) called rape and sexual abuse in detention an epidemic after the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released results of the 2008-09 nationwide survey of inmates in federal and state prisons as well as county jails.

Statistic after statistic shows us a glimpse of rape and abuse in these facilities, but it’s the letters JDI receives every week from survivors of sexual abuse held in detention that make the epidemic personal.

“I would misbehave to get locked up [in solitary confinement] so I didn’t have to deal with it.” — Abused by an officer in Texas

“What do I do? Risk an attempt on my life and initiate an investigation, or keep quiet and endure?” — Silence and fear in Nevada

“I’ve come to accept that I am a victim and a survivor of abuse by corrections officers.  I totally accept the retaliation I will receive from government employees for speaking to you.” — Courage from undisclosed location

So what’s being done to stem the increasing victimization of women, men and youth who have no escape from their victimizers?

Or more to the point, what’s not being done?   JDI’s press release emphasizes the need for action now on standards detailed in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA):

For the past 14 months, the Justice Department has been reviewing proposed national standards aimed at eliminating sexual violence in detention, which were also mandated by PREA. These standards include limitations on cross-gender supervision. They also call for staff training and inmate education, the provision of medical and mental health treatment to sexual abuse victims, and regular independent, external audits to hold agencies accountable for failures to keep inmates safe from abuse. By law, Attorney General Eric Holder had until June 23, 2010 to ratify binding standards, but he missed this deadline and no new date has been set. Once the Attorney General issues final standards, they will be immediately binding on federal facilities. States and localities will have one year to get into compliance or risk losing five percent of their corrections-related federal funding.

So what’s the holdup?  Every day the epidemic increases—person by person by person, not statistic by statistic. I think it’s way past time to put these minimum safeguards into effect.  What about you?

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