New Federal Report: Too Few Abusive Staff Face Legal Consequences
Media Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake
(office) 213-384-1400, ext. 113
Los Angeles, January 23, 2014 – A new Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report reveals the ongoing failure of corrections agencies to hold officials accountable for sexual abuse. Today’s study, which includes data from prisons and jails covering a three-year period, shows that almost half of staff who were found to have committed sexual misconduct faced no legal action. More shocking still, 15 percent of known staff perpetrators of this type of abuse were allowed to keep their jobs – and continue to have access to potential victims.
“These findings point to a level of impunity in our prisons and jails that is simply unacceptable,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “When corrections agencies choose to ignore sexual abuse committed by staff members – people who are paid by our tax dollars to keep inmates safe – they support criminal behavior.”
Today’s BJS report, "Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2009-2011,” is based on formal reports of sexual abuse in federal and state prisons, local jails, and other adult facilities. The BJS found that the number of filed reports increased significantly between 2005 and 2011, from 6,241 to 8,763. Of these reports, very few were substantiated following an internal investigation: corrections officials determined that only 902 incidents (about 10 percent) occurred in 2011, while the majority of cases were deemed to be “unsubstantiated,” or lacking in sufficient evidence.
The figures from today’s report account for only a fraction of the number of sexual assaults that are committed in U.S. detention facilities. Last year, based on its anonymous survey of inmates nationwide, the BJS estimated that more than 200,000 people were sexually abused in a single year. The disparity between the number of reports made anonymously and those made through official channels is a sad testament to the obstacles faced by inmates in speaking out about this type of violence.
Today’s report also exposes a system-wide failure to provide services to people who are sexually abused in custody. In 70 percent of substantiated cases of staff sexual abuse, the survivor received no crisis counseling or medical follow-up. “Countless inmates tell us that they keep quiet because they fear officials won’t believe them or that they won’t get any help anyway,” said Stannow. “Today’s data show that their fears are justified.”
Other findings from today’s report include:
- Among staff found to have perpetrated sexual misconduct, 46 percent were referred for prosecution, 27 percent were arrested, and one percent were convicted.
- One in five staff members who were found to have committed either sexual misconduct or sexual harassment kept their jobs. Among those who lost their jobs, 27 percent resigned prior to an investigation, 10 percent resigned after an investigation, and 42 percent were discharged.
- Contrary to stereotypes, female staff were more likely than male staff to have been found to commit sexual misconduct (54 percent versus 46 percent). However, male staff committed the majority of substantiated cases of sexual harassment (74 percent male staff versus 26 percent female staff).
- In further contrast to popular myth, women inmates were disproportionately victimized by other inmates in both prisons and jails. Women make up just 7 percent of the prison population but 22 percent of all substantiated incidents of inmate-on-inmate abuse was perpetrated by women; in jails, women make up 13 percent of inmates but 27 percent of all substantiated incidents.
Just Detention International is a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention.