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Prison Rape Opponents Sue to Protect Award-Winning Web Site from Internet Censors

Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc., a nationally organized group dedicated to fighting against the rape of incarcerated persons of all genders and ages, joined the American Civil Liberties Union and 19 other plaintiffs today (Feb. 7, 1996) in asking the courts to declare censorship of "indecent language" on the Internet unconstitutional.

"We are trying to protect our award-winning site on the World Wide Web," said Stephen Donaldson, president of the New York-based organization. "It is far and away our most effective way of warning people about the horrors of widespread sexual assault behind American bars," he said, 'and it has already won several awards for excellence."

The site, at, was designated the best prison-related site on the Web, and one of the 30 best non-profit sites overall, by Impact Online, Donaldson explained. In addition, Internet By Point Survey designated the site as one of the "Top 5% of the Web" and The McKinley Group rated it as a "3-Star" site in Magellan, their Internet directory of over 1.5 million sites and 40,000 reviews.

The site gets about 5,000 electronic visits a week, according to Ellen Spertus, SPR's Webmaster and a doctoral candidate in computer science at MIT. "With very few funds, we would have no other way to reach so many people with information on the very widespread rape of prisoners," Donaldson added, "and no one else is addressing this horrifying subject."

The suit is directed at provisions of the "Communications Decency Act of 1996" (a part of the Telecommunications Act) and is to be filed in the federal court in Philadelphia tomorrow (Feb. 8, 1996) after its signing by President Clinton. One provision imposes criminal penalties for "indecent" telecommunications to individuals under the age of 18; another criminalizes the "display in a manner available" to a person under 18 anything that "depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs."

"You just can't explain the reality of rape behind bars," Donaldson said, "without using language prohibited in the Act. We're trying to prevent the crime of rape, and the Congress instead wants to make us the criminals."

"Not only is it practically impossible to bar minors from looking up our Web site," Donaldson declared, "but we think society would be a lot safer if all the teenage males tempted by a criminal lifestyle would first read the gruesome facts about rape in reform schools and jails. The sad truth is that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be raped."

The Stop Prisoner Rape site on the Web contains numerous accounts of actual rapes by prisoner and former prisoner victims, Donaldson explained. "These are mostly taken from letters written to us, not originally intended for publication, and they are usually written in uneducated street language. It is their anguish which comes through clearly, and we don't feel we should censor these accounts of such terrifying suffering and official indifference. These victims have paid dearly for the opportunity to warn others, and it would not be right to tamper with their testimonies by prettying them up."

"If I were a teen reading these gruesome and heartbreaking letters, I would certainly think three times about getting involved with drug dealing or other crimes," Donaldson declared. "It has a lot of impact when you read it in words written by other teens or talking about what happened to them when they were juveniles. The street language is immediately understandable by any kid in a way that scientific vocabulary can never hope to be."

"I can't understand why the politicians in Washington want to censor us out," Donaldson said, "unless they're trying to cover up the considerable role of government employees in maintaining the rape system behind bars. If they really want to fight crime they should be urging parents to show our site to their kids before they get in trouble."

"The complicity of incarceration officials in the institutionalized system of sexual slavery which is so common behind bars is what is really patently offensive, " Donaldson declared. "It dwarfs anything that could be said about the language in the prisoner letters found on our Web site."

Stop Prisoner Rape was founded in 1980 and played a major role in the landmark 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision Farmer v. Brennan, which established the liability of prison officials for deliberate indifference to rapes in the institutions they run. Donaldson is himself a survivor of a jailhouse gang-rape following a Quaker antiwar protest on the White House lawn in 1973. A Navy veteran and former newspaper and Associated Press reporter, he was acquitted of the trespass charge which resulted in his jailing and two days of rape, widely reported in the Washington press at the time.

For further information contact: Stephen Donaldson, president, sprdon, 212-663-5562, or Ellen Spertus, Webmaster, ellens, 206-685-4087. To support SPR's efforts, send contributions to PO Box 2713, Manhattanville Stn., New York, NY 10027-8817.

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