Take Prison Rape Seriously
On July 26, 2016 NOW-NYC testified in front of the New York City Board of Correction public hearing on the proposed rule to change the minimum standards for detecting, preventing, and responding to sexual abuse of people incarcerated in New York city jails and prisons. These changes include: taking claims of sexual assault seriously, abuser accountability, and processes to keep evidence and improve investigations.
As a women’s rights organization with a long history of advocating for survivors of rape and sexual assault, we are here today to urge the Board of Corrections to Take Rape Seriously and fulfill its charge of ensuring the safety and fair treatment of all individuals in the Department of Correction’s custody by strengthening the proposed rules to meet and exceed the requirements of the federal 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.
The failure to adequately address sexual assault in our city jails has been well documented, and the rate of staff sexual abuse of women and other detainees is unquestionably alarming. In 2014, there were 116 reports of sexual assault and rape at Riker’s. Of these, more than half were allegations made against Corrections Officers. Only two of these complaints were reported to the NYPD.
Rape and sexual assault are violent crimes that can strip a victim of their sense of autonomy and control. For those who are detained or incarcerated, these injustices are immeasurably magnified. This is a human rights violation that we cannot allow to continue to happen on our watch. We urge the Board of Corrections to strengthen the Proposed Rules as follows:
- Victims must be treated within a framework that begins with believing. This means that reports of sexual assault are taken seriously, measures to separate victims from alleged assailants are immediately put into place, and investigations are comprehensive and unbiased. This clear and unambiguous starting point ensures that resources are prioritized for investigating claims and protecting victims—changes that must be made to truly put an end to sexual abuse behind bars.
- Sexual assault complaints must be investigated in a timely and comprehensive manner by an external, independent body to ensure a fair process that protects the confidentiality of the victim and helps prevent retaliation.
- Systems must be established to support strong investigations and the preservation of evidence, by increasing the number and placement of cameras and maintaining security footage for a minimum of 5 years. In fact, because it can take time for a victim to feel that they are able to safely make a claim, we recommend that footage be maintained indefinitely—as long as sexual abuse remains a clear problem.
- Perpetrators must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. No one deserves to be raped. If perpetrators never face punishment for these crimes, they will continue to happen unabated.
The 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act set out to end sexual assault in jails more than a decade ago. In that time, countless women, transgender individuals, and men have been violated in New York City jails without recourse. As the New York City Board of Corrections, you have an incredible opportunity to make lasting change to an unacceptable culture of violence. We urge you to strengthen the Proposed Rules to ensure effective and real enforcement toward ending rape and sexual assault in our New York City jails.