Austin, March 26, 2007
I would like to thank the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission for giving me the opportunity to address you today. I am here on behalf of my fiancée, who is incarcerated in a women’s prison in Texas, and has been sexually assaulted on a number of occasions by a male corrections officer who was assigned to her housing unit. I am very concerned for her safety and the possibility that she will experience retaliation as a result of my appearance here today. Therefore, I will not use her real name nor indicate which prison she is at, and I will refer to her as “Jane.”
Jane engaged in a sexual relationship in 2000 with the corrections officer who has more recently sexually assaulted her. This sexual relationship occurred during a previous stay at the same prison where she is currently incarcerated. Jane and I met on-line in 2002. At first we just corresponded as friends, but we soon declared our commitment to each other and plan to marry upon her release from prison. Shortly after we met in 2002, but long after Jane had communicated to this officer that she no longer wished to be involved with him, he entered her cell one night and sexually assaulted her. Jane reported this incident and was transferred to another facility. She does not know what, if any, action was taken against the officer. If he had been prosecuted, Jane wouldn’t have had to endure what she’s been through during these past six months.
Although she reported what this officer did to her in 2002, Jane was transferred back to the prison where he works, on October 2, 2006, and placed in a housing area where he is stationed. The officer immediately began asking her questions to see if she would agree to resume having sexual encounters with him. When she refused, he began sexually assaulting and threatening her.
The first assault occurred on October 3, 2006—her second day at the facility—when the corrections officer was escorting Jane to the shower. On the walk back to her cell, while she was handcuffed, he forcefully grabbed her breast. Only weeks later, he threatened her while she was in the shower area waiting to be escorted back to her cell, asking her something to the effect of “we’re not going to have a problem here, are we?” He then demanded that she lift her gown, and inserted his fingers into her vagina.
Although Jane had been too fearful to say anything after the first incident, when he assaulted her again, she reported it to a lieutenant, the prison warden and the Texas Office of the Inspector General. The prison initiated an investigation late last year which is still ongoing. My understanding is that Jane was told by investigators that the officer was no longer to be stationed in her housing area. The prison has several sections, and he was to be assigned to a different area pending the outcome of the investigation. However, Jane continued to see him working in her area. She told me that the prison was experiencing a shortage of personnel, and that she understood this to be the reason that he continued to work in her area. In addition, Jane feared that the corrections officer would continue to sexually assault her if given the opportunity, and she felt that the Inspector General’s office was not handling her complaint seriously.
About two months after the second assault, on December 17, 2006, the officer was serving the inmates in Jane’s area a meal in their cells. When he arrived at the door of Jane’s cell, she happened to be standing close to the door. The officer reached into the tray slot, grabbed her and pulled her toward the slot, at which point he violently reached through her clothes and put his fingers into her vagina. He committed the same criminal act about two weeks later, on December 31, 2006, when he was again delivering meals to the women in Jane’s housing area. Fortunately, Jane’s cellmate witnessed this incident, and she and Jane jointly reported it to the facility. An investigation into this second complaint is also ongoing.
After making the second report, Jane was placed in a protective custody housing unit called “transit” where she has now been for about three months. Transit is usually where inmates are placed pending transfer to another unit. I hope that this will be the case for Jane, and that she will be removed from this prison very soon. Our understanding is that the officer who assaulted her is still working at the prison, but Jane has not seen him in the transit unit. She continues to live in fear of reprisals, however, as it would be easy for this officer to walk over to her unit to harass or threaten her, or have one of his buddies who works in her area do so.
I saw my fiancée approximately three weeks ago, when I came to Texas to visit her. Fortunately, she is allowed to have visits, but not much else. She told me that she is not permitted to participate in inmate programming such as work or educational programs, and spends almost all of her time in her cell reading. This keeps her from being able to better herself and participate in activities that would help increase her chances of being able to parole. Before being transferred to this facility, she completed a drug rehabilitation program; I remember how proud she was of this because she sent me the certificate in the mail. I know there are other goals she would like to pursue so that she has marketable skills when she gets out of prison; any such plans are on hold until these investigations are complete or she is transferred. My biggest fear is that with nothing to do all day, and very little human contact, she is left alone in her cell to think about the sexual abuse she has experienced and the likelihood that it will happen again. I know she also worries about her former cellmate who helped her report the most recent incident of sexual abuse, as that inmate has been retaliated against as a result.
In addition, these incidents are not the only instances of sexual abuse Jane has been subjected to. In 2004, when she was incarcerated at another Texas prison, she awoke one night to her cellmate touching and rubbing her in a sexual manner. And although I am not aware of all the details, Jane has told me that the corrections officer who assaulted her at the facility she is at now is not the only corrections officer who has sexually assaulted or abused her. [It is my impression that Jane did not report the incident with the cellmate nor with other corrections officers because she felt it would be pointless to do so.]
Thus, I come before the Commission today with a sense of urgency. My fiancée has been devastated by this abuse. During my visits with her a few weeks ago, I was very concerned about her emotional state. Physically, she suffered spotting in her vaginal area from these assaults, and had to endure the further trauma of undergoing a rape kit examination. However, the mental injuries have been much more severe. She has told me that she feels dirty and violated all the time, and that her vaginal area never feels clean. She has become visibly anxious, a condition she has never experienced before. She flinches whenever anyone comes close to her, and does not like for anyone to touch her at all. I noticed that she has been making very dark jokes about what has happened to her, in what seems to be a desperate attempt to cope with it. She has had very little opportunity to speak with a therapist, and I can see how depressed and withdrawn she is, particularly since being placed in protective custody. She told me that after months of not sleeping well, she is finally beginning to get a decent night’s sleep. Part of the difficulty she has had with sleeping is because she is afraid to sleep at night when the lights are out. She feels safer sleeping during the day, with the lights on, and being awake at night, when she feels in greater danger of the corrections officer who assaulted her sneaking into her cell.
I have struggled during these past months trying to figure out what more I can do to help my fiancée. It is troubling to realize that this same corrections officer may well have sexually assaulted other female inmates who may not be as courageous as Jane has been and that, now nearly five years after Jane first reported this officer and after the two subsequent reports she has made, he is still employed by TDCJ and continues to have access to many female inmates, including Jane. It has gotten to the point where I don’t eat or sleep right anymore because I am so preoccupied with her situation. I have reached out to the facility warden and other officials on her behalf, and have found that they did not take me seriously until I contacted the ombudsman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). I have yet to receive any response to my efforts except that Jane’s complaints are being investigated. I have been told that the Texas Legislature is now considering legislation that seeks to create a more independent Ombudsperson outside of TDCJ to handle sexual violence cases. I am not an expert on this, but my fiancée's and my experience certainly illustrates that the current system is not responding well and is not protecting inmates like my fiancée from serious harm.
It is very difficult for me to discuss what my fiancée has been through, but I would like to once again express my appreciation to the Commission for taking the time to listen. I can only hope that appearing here today will make some small difference, both for her and the many other inmates who have been through something similar.
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