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An End to Silence

An End to Silence: Women Prisoners' Handbook on Identifying and Addressing Sexual Misconduct is a 67 page booklet published by the National Women's Law Center. The booklet is designed for women prisoners, their advocates, prison officials and attorneys. It contains chapters on recognizing misconduct; the physical and emotional effects of sexual misconduct; what to do if victimized; seeking medical help; questions and answers and resources.

The booklet contains interesting information on why women prisoners tend to be more vulnerable to sexual abuse by staff members than other women. In part this is because eighty percent of women prisoners suffer from drug, alcohol and nicotine addictions and have been victimized by sexual and physical abuse in the past. Prison poverty is also cited as a factor. One prisoner said: "If we had more jobs in here, we wouldn't have to have sex just to get a candy bar, some street food or a perm."

While the booklet is a good attempt at addressing this important issue it has several shortcomings. First, it ignores the fact that most prison systems have a lengthy history of ignoring complaints of sexual abuse by prisoners and of systematically retaliating against and punishing those prisoners who complain of it. Secondly, it lists the addresses of the attorney generals in all fifty states as a contact to whom sexually abused prisoners can address complaints. Attorney generals have an inherent conflict of interest because their first duty is to defend government agencies against litigation. They do little, if anything, in the realm of criminal prosecution. Historically attorney generals are, to be generous, less than vigorous in investigating claims of misconduct or illegal activity by prison employees (some flat out state they will take no action) since they will be called upon to defend the agency and employees in the event any civil litigation ensues. Whenever prison employees are prosecuted for sexual misconduct it has been because the county prosecutor where the prison is located has initiated the prosecution, not because the AG's office pursued the matter.

A useful feature, and handy reference, is that the booklet lists the statutes of the 35 states that criminalize sexual contact between prisoners and staff. The booklet is available free to women prisoners. Contact: National Women's Law Center, 11 Dupont Circle, N.W. Suite 800, Washington D.C. 20036.

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