Not even my rapist should be raped in prison

By Jan Lastocy, Detroit Free Press
June 7, 2012

For more than a decade, I have fought to protect men and women behind bars from sexual abuse. I believe that, no matter what the crime, no one deserves to be raped -- not even the man who raped me.

The man who raped me was my job supervisor at a prison warehouse in Michigan, where I was serving time in 1998 for attempted embezzlement. I wanted to report the assaults, but I was afraid I wouldn't be believed. The warden had let it be known that she would never take an inmate's word over an officer's. I also knew that my attacker had the power to delay my release by writing me up, something he often bragged about doing to inmates.

Desperate to return home to my husband and children, I kept quiet. The officer continued to assault me -- in a walk-in freezer, behind crates, and anywhere he felt confident he wouldn't be caught. By the time I was released, I had been raped more times than I could count.

My story is not unusual. Every year, well over 200,000 people are sexually abused in detention. These are ordinary people who, like me, paid a terrible price that was never part of their sentence. Most inmates are raped more than once, and most are abused by corrections officers.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 called for binding standards to eliminate sexual abuse in detention. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice missed its June 2010 deadline to finalize the standards. Since then, a small but vocal movement to stop prisoner rape has applied constant pressure on the department to take this necessary, long overdue step.

Finally, that day has come. Last week, nine years after the passage of PREA, the government issued its standards.

For example, under the standards, inmates will be able to report abuse anonymously and to an external agency. This means that men, women and children survivors will be safer speaking out against abuse.

In a groundbreaking change, facilities will be expected to provide survivors access to counseling from a rape crisis center. Education and training, too, will be improved. When I was in prison, no one told me that I had a right to be free from rape. Under the standards, all inmates will be taught that it is never OK to be harassed, abused or threatened.

I am proud of my role, and the role of other survivors, in getting the standards passed. Last June, on the one-year anniversary of the Department of Justice's missed deadline to finish them, I was part of a delegation of survivors who traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with policymakers. Our message was clear: Every day without the standards is another day in which people needlessly suffer. Working with advocacy groups and, increasingly committed corrections officials, we continued to press for the standards.

Now that the standards are released, the movement is focused on a new goal: ensuring their implementation. Advocates and survivors, working together with officials in jails, prisons and other detention facilities, are committed to securing their adoption in every facility nationwide.

When I returned home from prison in December 1998, I was relieved to be back with my family and safe from abuse. About 10 months after my release, I was contacted by internal affairs. The staff member who raped me was being investigated for sexually abusing an inmate. I was the last person they interviewed, and, it turns out, one of many women whom this man had raped. He was formally charged with rape and, following a five-year trial, convicted.

I hope the man who raped me is kept safe in prison. I hope that if he is harassed, abused or threatened, he can get help. Thanks to the standards -- and the courage and hard work of survivors -- we're closer than ever to ensuring that no one, not even my rapist, ever has to go through what I did.

Jan Lastocy is a member of the Survivor Council of Just Detention International, a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. She lives in Belmont, just outside of Grand Rapids, with her husband, John.

Original post: http://www.freep.com/article/20120607/OPINION05/206070439/Guest-commentary-Not-even-my-rapist-should-be-raped-in-prison