The Brutal Horror of Prison Rape, as Told by Its Victims
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This June 23rd, Attorney General Holder has missed an important deadline, mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, to institute national standards aimed at ending the scourge of prisoner rape. Every month that goes by without these essential reforms will result in thousands more men and women becoming the victims of sexual violence.
As you read these two personal accounts below, keep in mind that we can put this terrible and illegal practice to an end. --Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director, Just Detention International
by Kimberly Yates:
I spent about 15 years in state and federal prison on drug charges. In 2004, I was at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia where I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Officer Theodore Woodson.
I was manipulated by this officer, and he forced me to have sex with him on several occasions. What he did to me was inhumane and has stayed with me ever since - rather than let it tear me down, I have taken the opportunity to speak out and educate others about the serious crisis of sexual violence in our nations prisons and jails.
Officer Woodson would take me to the warehouse in the basement of the detention center, and that is where he raped me. After the first time, he told me that if I ever told anybody that he knew where my family lived,where my children lived, threatening to hurt them. I was afraid for myself and my family, so I did not say a word to anybody. He would repeat this threat every time he would attack me.
The final time he raped me, I was badly injured and needed to go to the emergency room. I was bleeding and hemorrhaging - and the medical report identified that I had been raped. When I informed the captain of what happened, fortunately he believed me, and he had Officer Woodson escorted out of the facility.
The captain's response was crucial - if he had refused to believe me, or even blamed me, the situation could have turned out very different. It is really important that any standards you issue include clear measures about officials' responsibility to report incidents of sexual abuse, to take such violence seriously, and the development of clear steps to be taken to initiate an investigation. I believe that these points are well addressed by the standards proposed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, and I encourage you to draw on their expertise rather than duplicate their efforts.
Eventually, I found out that Officer Woodson had preyed on at least four other women, and that another inmate had reported his conduct more than a year before he raped me. A family on the outside had written to BOP to ask them to investigate this officer. But BOP did nothing - they swept it under the rug.
After my report, BOP finally conducted an investigation. Because I had the courage to tell my story, several other women whom he had sexually assaulted came forward as well. They were too afraid to say anything before then. Three of us were transferred to another facility (FPC Alderson), where we did not get the proper follow-up care that we needed.
The counselor I was assigned was not helpful. I don't think the staff at Alderson took the assault seriously. In fact, some staff made comments to us about what happened with Officer Woodson - they wanted to scare us, intimidate us, make us feel bad for reporting the abuse.
I don't think those officers should have been able to access our files in any way. It is really important that any information related to a sexual assault not become common knowledge. Since they knew about this, many of the staff treated us badly because we had reported on another officer, and that is not right.
The recommendations you are reviewing also address these issues: keeping sexual assault information on a need-to-know basis and giving victims proper follow-up care. This violence is extremely traumatic, and victims need to receive, or at least be offered, counseling to help them heal. Corrections facilities should work with outside rape crisis agencies to make their services available to inmates. And corrections mental health staff need specialized training in providing support to victims of sexual abuse in detention.
I wonder if I had not spoken up, would Officer Woodson still be there? Would he still be abusing women? The BOP was the entity that was supposed to keep me safe. I was supposed to serve time for the crime I committed, not be raped. How many women could the BOP have spared if they had taken notice of what they were told?
Officer Theodore Woodson was eventually charged criminally. He pled guilty to felony counts of engaging in sexual acts with three women inmates and received only a four month jail sentence and three years of probation. At first I felt a lot of anger because of that -- I felt that he got a lesser sentence because we were prisoners and did not have rights. But the truth of it is that he could have gotten life in prison and it would not have taken away from the pain I was left with because of what he did.
What makes my case especially alarming is the fact that the BOP was put on notice about this officer but continued to allow him to work in that position, knowing what he had done and that he could do it to someone else. The standards must address this. Reports that an officer is abusive - even from an outside source like the inmate's family in Woodson's case - must always be taken seriously with a full investigation and real repercussions. If earlier reports of his abuse had been acted on, my rape could have been prevented.
The memory of the assault will ever go away for me, but I have decided how to deal with it. Some of the women involved in my case have a hard time dealing with the trauma - they feel scared and mistrustful, they blame themselves for what happened. We never asked to be raped and I know now that it is not our fault. Even if I was incarcerated, I was still a human being, I still had feelings, I still could get hurt.
I could choose to move on or let it kill me, and I chose to move on. I started my own business when I got home. I have had support from my attorney. My probation officer is one of the fairest, most respectable men, and he has made things easier by being someone that I can call.
The trauma of this experience has caused me serious harm. I developed an eating disorder and other problems. I experienced loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, guilt, and shame. It took something from me that I can never get back. The worst part is it could have been prevented.