Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Is Ending Prison Rape “Too Expensive”?

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Over at the Washington City Paper website, The Sexist blog has a great post up quoting at length from many of the public comments submitted to the Department of Justice regarding the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission’s proposed standards. The commenters range from state corrections department officials, who argue that the standards are too expensive to implement, to victims of prison sexual abuse, who describe their experiences in sobering and heartbreaking detail. Remember that if you haven’t yet submitted your views about prison rape to Attorney General Eric Holder, you still have time — the public comment period on the proposed standards is open until May 10. You can sign your name to Just Detention International‘s comments at this online petition, or visit my earlier post for instructions on submitting your own comment via the federal government’s Regulations.gov website.

Here’s an excerpt from the story of Frank Mendoza:

In 2006, I was fired from my job at a law firm and was arrested for public drunkenness. I was transferred from the Orange County Jail to the Los Angeles County Jail. I was scared of other inmates, but did not know at the time that I had more reason to fear the staff. While at the Los Angeles County Jail, I was repeatedly harassed by corrections officers because I was openly gay. Officers would verbally abuse and taunt me, and nothing I did would make them leave me alone. After one particularly humiliating incident, I tried to defend myself. In response, one of the officers threatened to hurt me. I had no idea he would actually carry out those threats and get away with it. I believe my rape was premeditated.

At the time, I was housed in Administrative Segregation. A day or two after I was threatened, all of the officers in the watchtower left and it got eerily quiet. That is when the officer who threatened me entered my cell and severely beat and digitally raped me. When the officer on the next shift saw me naked and bloodied in my cell, he asked what happened. I told him I was raped and he just told me to get dressed, but never followed up on my report. The inmate in the cell next to mine heard the attack, but he wasn’t willing to help me or to testify against the officer, for fear that it might happen to him too.

Survivors need multiple avenues to report a sexual assault, especially if they were raped by a staff member. Inmates cannot be expected to report abuse to an officer who works closely with the perpetrator. I told an officer what happened to me, but nothing was ever done. Because of the “code of silence,” officers refused to report on one another, leaving me without any options to seek help. For that reason, it is critically important that the standards include an option for survivors to report to someone on the outside, so that facilities will be forced to take reports of sexual violence seriously.

The standards should also make sure that rape in jail is investigated like rape in the community. I was denied a forensic exam, which made it almost impossible to collect any evidence from the rape. No one ever provided me with any treatment for my injuries, even though I was badly beaten. I never spoke with a counselor or mental health staff member and was left to suffer alone in my cell. If I had access to these services, I could have been spared years of needless suffering and pain.

I was only in the jail for two weeks, but I was very traumatized by the attack. I was virtually homeless, but I was determined to seek justice in my case. I went to the Rampart Police Station to report the rape and did everything I could do move it forward. But nothing ever came of it. Without a forensic exam or any kind of evidence from the assault, building a criminal case against the officer was virtually impossible. As far as I know, he still works at the jail.

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