House and Senate Pass Legislation to Curb Prisoner Rape
July 25, 2003
WASHINGTON D.C. - The
U.S. House of Representatives 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 (H.R. 1707).
The same legislation was
passed by the Senate on Monday (S. 1435). "The unanimous passage of this
bill by both the House and 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.
The bill will now go to
President Bush for his signature.
"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
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."