A group of women inmates is suing New York State alleging persistent sexual abuse in prisons and weak efforts by administrators to prevent or punish such behavior. The lawsuit, reported in Friday’s New York Times, echoes City Limits’ 2011 investigation of sexual abuse in New York State’s women’s prisons.
According to the Times:
The suit identifies plaintiffs as Jane Jones 1 through 6 and officers by letters of the alphabet. In one case, the suit accuses “Officer C” at Bedford Hills of sexually and physically abusing and harassing a 28-year-old plaintiff for about a year. The abuse included repeated acts of sexual intercourse with the officer, to which prisoners are not legally able to consent, the lawsuit makes clear.
At one point, Officer C choked her, leaving bruises on her neck. On other occasions, he grabbed her violently by the wrists and pushed her against the wall, the lawsuit says. It adds that an investigator eventually told the woman that no action would be taken against Officer C “because nothing was caught on camera, there was no DNA, and because ‘inmate statements were not worth that much.'”
As Kelly Virella reported in her award-winning 2011 investigation, sexual abuse in prisons sometimes resembles the kind of encounter in which Officer C is accused of taking part. At other times, it does not involve force and could be considered consensual–although, given the vast power differential between correction officers and inmates, state law understandably does not deem prisoners capable of giving consent. As Virella wrote:
One day in the visiting room of New York State’s Albion Correctional Facility, LaTrisa Hyman heard her friend and fellow inmate shriek, “He proposed to me! He proposed to me!” Looking across the room, she saw her friend’s elated new fiancé, still on one knee, saying, “She said yes!” … The [correction] officers needed to maintain order in the room, but their reaction may also have been colored by the identity of the man asking for the inmate’s hand: He was one of their own—a correctional officer.
Jeanette P. also got a ring from a correctional officer while doing time in a New York State prison, and they did have sex—regularly for about two years. She and the officer, Peter Z., fell in love at Bayview Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison on the West Side of Manhattan. Other inmates knew they were having a romantic relationship. One saw him leaving her room with his shirt untucked and scolded him, “Fix your clothes, boy!” But by the end, Jeanette alleges, he was hitting her, and she was afraid to report him to prison officials out of fear he would harm her more.
Sexual encounters between inmates and officers can also begin violently, with officers forcing inmates who have never loved them or wanted to have sex with them to submit. That’s what a former inmate alleges happened to her at Albion Correctional Facility in 2007, and in August federal judge David G. Larimer agreed. On two occasions, once in May and once in June 2007, the then officer, Donald L. asked her to report to a school building to clean it. When she arrived each time, Donald tried to rape her, the judge found. One time, Donald succeeded, ripping her clothes and bruising her, the judge said.