Suzanne Gamboa, Victims of Prison Rape Rally for Legislation, Associated Press, June 24, 2003.
WASHINGTON- Former prisoners who were raped while serving their sentences
gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill to drum up support for legislation that
seeks to hold prison facilities accountable for sexual assaults of
Among them was Marilyn
Shirley, a former inmate in a Fort Worth women's prison. A federal jury
awarded her $4 million earlier this month in a civil suit she filed
against the male guard she accused of raping her while she was
The officer she says
raped her continues to work in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, although he
was transferred to work in a prison for male inmates, she said. He is
under federal criminal investigation.
"I cannot believe that
this rapist is getting paid with people's tax dollars. This is wrong and
it must stop," Shirley said. She was incarcerated from 1996-2000 on a
phone charge in a drug-related case.
The legislation Shirley
and the other former inmates support is dubbed the Prison Rape Reduction
Act of 2003. It would require the Justice Department to conduct annual
surveys to determine the prevalence of rape in federal, state and county
prisons and jails.
It also would create a
commission to hold hearings on the issue and recommend national standards
for reducing and eliminating prison rape.
Those standards, if
adopted by the attorney general, would apply to federal prisons. States
wanting Justice Department grants would have to comply with them as well.
The bill also would
require prison accreditation organizations to examine prison rape
prevention practices in awarding accreditation. The House Judiciary
Committee was scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday.
"It's widely known that
sexual assaults go on in prisons all the time. What we've heard from these
(victims) is that it goes on in many circumstances, either perpetrated by
government employees or with government employees facilitating or looking
the other way," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.,
one of the bill sponsors.
Other sponsors are Rep.
Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett,
R-Md. A companion bill in the Senate is
sponsored by Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and
Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
introduced last session died because of stalled negotiations with the
The legislation has
backing from Stop Prisoner Rape, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group,
Prison Fellowship Ministries, a group headed by former Nixon White House
aide Chuck Colson and others. Prison Fellowship said modest estimates
indicate as many as 22 percent of inmates are raped while in prison, many
who are repeatedly sexually assaulted. The majority of victims are
juveniles and mentally ill inmates, the organization said.
Keith DeBalsio, who was convicted of a nonviolent
securities crime, said he was repeatedly sexually assaulted when he was
moved to a high security prison in Michigan after filing grievances
against prison officials.
His assailant was
charged with criminal sexual assault and attempted murder but received
five years in a plea agreement. No action was taken against the guards.
DeBalsio said he is now HIV positive.
"Why did I receive this
life sentence? And why doesn't anyone have to answer for their actions?"
DeBalsio said in a prepared statement. "At
this point I can only ask why."