Honoring 30 Years of Survivors Speaking Out Against Prisoner Rape

April 15, 2010 -

"We were a handful of survivors, emotional time bombs, trying to make a difference."

That's how Tom Cahill, JDI's former President, remembers the early days. Back then, Tom ran JDI -- founded in 1980 as People Organized to Stop the Rape of Imprisoned Persons -- from the back of his pick-up truck camper, where he lived. He recalls,

"I had a typewriter, a P.O. Box, and an answering service. At night, I would park close to a copy shop, type up angry press releases, and fax them in the morning."

JDI's first "office," 1983-1987

30 years ago, sexual abuse in detention was shrouded in silence.

To solve any crisis, you must first speak the truth; you must show the rest of the world that the problem is real. Then you must fix it. We're halfway there.

JDI's early leaders could hardly have imagined that in 2009 a bipartisan national commission would release standards designed to address sexual abuse in detention facilities throughout the country. Or that JDI would be working, as it is today, in collaboration with scores of corrections officials -- training staff on human rights norms.

We've come a long way, but we're not finished yet. Most detention facilities are far from instituting even the most basic reforms necessary to protect each inmate's right to be free from sexual abuse.

In 1993, three years before dying of AIDS -- the result of his rapes behind bars -- former JDI President Stephen "Donny" Donaldson wrote:

When will the attacks end? Not until the public turns its averted eyes back to the walls that were built and are maintained at great expense by taxpayers to promote the public safety. Not until all staff members are trained more effectively to prevent rape and to respond sympathetically to victims... None of this will happen unless we break the wall of silence around sexual violence in our jails.

The wall of silence is broken. Let's make the rest of Donny's vision a reality.

Please join JDI in honoring the survivors whose courage and activism brought to light the most neglected human rights crisis in the country. Donate now to help us end sexual abuse behind bars, once and for all. Your tax-deductible gift will help advance real solutions, and bring us closer to securing safety and dignity for everyone behind bars.

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