Prisoner Rape Survivor Testifies at New York City Hall

November 13, 2003

NEW YORK - A survivor of sexual assault in prison spoke before the New York City Committee on Fire & Criminal Justice Services today, bringing his perspective on the abuse he experienced to a hearing aimed at improving oversight on sexual assault in the city's jails.

T.J. Parsell, a New York state resident who serves on the Board of Advisors of the human rights group Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), was sexually assaulted as a juvenile in a Midwest prison. Now retired as a software executive, he is a survivor, writer, and activist, and is working on a memoir about his time in prison.

"It does not have to be an inevitable reality that men, women, and children are raped inside of our jails," rsell said. "There are simple, inexpensive prevention measures that facilities can and should take to address this tragedy."

Parsell also spoke out in June on Capitol Hill, along with other survivors of sexual abuse behind bars, at an SPR-sponsored event in Washington D.C. in support of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. "This is a difficult story to tell," explained Parsell, "but speaking about what happened is part of the healing process for me."

Lara Stemple, executive director of SPR, said testimony from survivors can help cut through the layers of misinformation and indifference that have traditionally surrounded sexual violence in detention.

"Too many corrections officials continue to minimize the significance of sexual assault or even deny that it takes place at all," Stemple said. "The objective results of university researchers, though, show that it is an alarmingly frequent occurrence, and the brave testimony of individuals like T.J. helps us to understand the human reality behind the numbers."

In a study of Midwestern prisons, as many as one in five male inmates reported a pressured or forced sexual encounter, while one in ten male inmates reported having been raped. In a study of women's facilities, reported rates of sexual assault ranged from 7% to as high as 27%.

"Prisoner rape is an issue whose time has come," asserted Stemple. In addition to the unanimous passage by the House and Senate of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 and its signature into law by President Bush in September, the issue has begun to make headway in the popular media. Tonight, NBC's top-rated drama, "ER," will air an episode concerning a young prisoner rape survivor for which Stop Prisoner Rape provided input.

A national 501(c)(3) human rights organization, Stop Prisoner Rape seeks to end sexual violence against men, women, and youth in all forms of detention.