Federal Legislation Introduced to Curb Prisoner Rape

June 12, 2002

WASHINGTON D.C. - Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate have come together in a groundbreaking, bipartisan effort to introduce the first-ever federal legislation to address the problem of sexual assault in corrections facilities. Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rep. Bobby Scott, and Rep. Frank Wolf announced today that they would co-sponsor a new bill known as the Prison Rape Reduction Act of 2002.

“The sexual abuse of male and female prisoners in U.S. facilities occurs an alarming rate, destroying lives, derailing justice, spreading disease, and perpetuating violence both inside and outside of prison walls,” said Lara Stemple, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), a national nonprofit human rights organization dedicated to ending sexual violence against men, women, and youth in all forms of detention.

Stemple said that SPR is pleased that the federal government has turned its attention to this widespread human rights abuse. “SPR has worked on this problem for over two decades, and it’s satisfying to see it finally coming to the fore,” she said. In order to give prisoner rape survivors a voice in national policy that directly affects them, SPR will bring forward survivors to testify during Congressional hearings on the bill.

“There is a dire need for both state and federal governments to look more closely at this horrific human rights abuse. This bill is a step in the right direction,” Stemple stated. “Prisoner rape is a serious abuse that is dehumanizing and sometimes deadly. Victims have been left beaten and bloodied, they have suffered long-term psychological harm, and they have contracted HIV.” Currently, one in five men in prison has been sexually abused, typically by other inmates. Rates for women, who are most likely to be abused by male staff, vary greatly. Women in some facilities report virtually no abuse and others report abuse rates as high as 27 percent. “This illustrates that sexual violence behind bars can be prevented,” Stemple explained.

The bill creates three programs in the Department of Justice: one dedicated to collecting national statistics about the problem, one to facilitate confidential reports of prisoner rape and provide training about how to address it, and one that will provide grants to combat the problem. The bill also creates an investigative commission which will produce a report and new national standards to address prisoner rape which states may adopt or opt out of. The bill has so far garnered a broad range of bipartisan support.

“Unfortunately, in many facilities throughout the country sexual abuse continues virtually unchecked,” said Stemple. “Too often, corrections officers turn a blind eye, or in the case of women inmates, actually perpetrate the abuse. We hope federal legislation will not only create incentives for states to take this problem seriously, but also give facilities the tools and information they need to prevent it.”

“Tolerance of this systemic abuse erodes the very foundation on which our system of justice is built,” said Stemple. “In addition to effective legislation, we need mental health services for survivors, lawsuits aimed at reform, and greater sympathy on the part of the public.”