'It was my country's shame' --
A Survivor's Tale of Sexual Abuse Behind Bars
Jailed for an act of civil disobedience in 1974, Tom Cahill was locked in an overcrowded cell where he was beaten and gang raped for 24 hours. The inmates attacked him after guards told them Tom was a child molester and promised special privileges for 'teaching him a lesson.' Though it happened more than 40 years ago, "that assault has changed my life in a way that no other event could," Tom says.
After he was released, Tom tried to live a normal life, but the abuse haunted him. He battled flashbacks and nightmares, and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His marriage disintegrated and his business failed. He was arrested repeatedly for acting out.
But Tom fought against the pain. Like countless other survivors, he committed himself to speaking out and working to stop sexual violence behind bars. "At first I felt shame and humiliation over being raped. Later, I realized that it was not my shame - it was my country's shame," he says.
An early leader of Just Detention International (JDI), Tom ran the organization with a shoestring budget and a burning passion for justice. Decades later, thanks to the tireless efforts of Tom and other survivors, prisoner rape is finally being recognized as the human rights crisis that it is.
Tom's story and portrait are featured on JDI's website, along with those of other survivors. While these accounts are not suitable for everyone, as they describe incidents of sexual abuse, we believe it is vital to hear directly from prisoner rape survivors. The people who have experienced this horrific form of abuse have unique insights about how to end it, and their testimonies can move us to take action.
As we continue to commemorate JDI's 30th anniversary, we rely on your support. Thank you for helping us to eliminate sexual violence in detention.