U.S. Senate Passes Legislation to Curb Prisoner Rape
July 21, 2003
WASHINGTON D.C. - The United
States Senate voted by unanimous consent today to approve the
first-ever federal legislation to address the problem of sexual assault in
detention facilities, the Prison Rape Elimination of Act of 2003
The bill is slated for a
suspension calendar vote by the House of Representatives on Wednesday
(H.R. 1707). "The passage of this bill by
the Senate marks historic progress on the most neglected form of abuse
in the nation," said Lara Stemple, executive director of Stop
Prisoner Rape (SPR), a national human rights organization dedicated to
ending sexual violence against men, women, and youth in detention.
SPR anticipates that the
House will move decisively on the legislation as well. If the House
approves a bill whose language is identical to that passed by the Senate,
the legislation can move forward for presidential signature
without going to conference to reconcile differences.
"Rape behind bars is
dehumanizing and sometimes deadly," Stemple said. "Victims have been left
beaten and bloodied, they have suffered long-term psychological harm,
they have been impregnated against their will, and they have
contracted HIV. It's time to take this important step to address the problem."
One in five men in prison has
been sexually abused, often by other inmates. Rates for women, who
are most likely to be abused by male staff, reach as high as one
in four in some facilities.
The bill calls for the
gathering of national statistics about the problem; the development of
guidelines for states about how to address prisoner rape; the creation
of a review panel to hold annual hearings; and the provision of grants
to states to combat the problem. "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."
The passage of the bill
follows SPR's event on Capitol Hill called Stories of Survival:
Recognizing Rape Behind Bars. The June 24 event featured members of Congress
and seven survivors of rape behind bars and their family members, who
spoke out publicly about the suffering caused by prisoner rape.
Linda Bruntmyer spoke at the
event about the suicide of her son, Rodney, who hung himself at the age
of 17 to escape repeated sexual assault in an adult prison. "This is not
what we mean when we say justice. Rape should not be considered a
part of the punishment. Rape is always a crime," Bruntmyer said.
Noting that more work will be
needed after the Prison Rape Elimination Act is signed into law,
Stemple said: "Tolerance of this systemic abuse erodes the very foundation on
which our system of justice is built. 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."