Don't Let the Department of Justice Abandon Survivors Behind Bars
Today, April 1, marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is a time to demand an end to sexual violence everywhere -- including behind bars. For too long, children and adults who are sexually abused in detention facilities every day, usually by corrections staff, have been the most forgotten survivors.
Right now, the U.S. Department of Justice is supposed to be changing that, by finalizing national standards to end sexual abuse in U.S. detention facilities. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spare countless people the horror of rape. Sadly, Attorney General Eric Holder and his team do not seem willing to create the strong standards prisons and jails desperately need.
After a slow and secretive review process, Attorney General Holder has dramatically weakened standards that were recommended by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which spent years studying the problem of sexual abuse in detention.
The Department of Justice is even ignoring its own data. Shockingly, in his proposed standards, Holder has removed limits on cross-gender pat searches and viewing of inmates using the toilet or shower, despite having documented that most staff abuse is committed against inmates of the opposite sex, and that it often begins during pat searches. The Department has also decided that the standards shouldn't apply to immigration facilities -- even though immigration detainees are among the most vulnerable to sexual violence.
Now the good news. You can demand that Holder come to his senses and protect inmates. For four more days only -- until April 4, 2011 -- the Department of Justice's standards are open for public comments.
This year, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let's make sure that the Department of Justice doesn't abandon some of those people who are most vulnerable to sexual abuse. More than 600 people like you have already weighed in with public comments -- will you join them?
You can submit your comments by using JDI's sample letter, or you can use our talking points to write your own letter.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the huge number of children and adults sexually abused behind bars -- more than 216,600 per year, according to the Department of Justice. But remember that every one of them is a real person, a family member and neighbor. All of us, whether inside or outside prison, have the right to be free from sexual abuse.
Many men and women have spoken out about the abuses they endured while behind bars, hoping that they can spare others the same suffering. After you submit your comments, you can learn more about these courageous people by following JDI on Facebook and Twitter. We'll be posting daily quotes from prisoner rape survivors throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Thank you, as always, for standing up for the safety and dignity of all people.