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Vermont, the Last State to Pass Sex Abuse Laws

On May 23, 2006, Vermont became the fiftieth and final state to outlaw sex between detention facility employees and prisoners. The proposed measure had been under debate for five years before Governor James Douglas finally signed the bill into law.

Amnesty International has pushed for the measure since 1999 when 14 states still were without laws protecting prisoners from sexual assault by their captors. By 2001, only six states including Vermont had failed to adopt some measure of reform.

?This is a significant victory, one that proves that lawmakers in Vermont understand that no woman deserves sexual abuse or unwanted sexual advances regardless of whether she?s serving time,? said Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International U.S.A. (AIUSA).

Joshua Rubenstein of AIUSA explains that, like statutory rape, sex between guards and prisoners cannot be consensual because the ?imbalance of power? is too great.

?There are all manner of ways in which a guard can pressure an inmate,? he said.

Corrections Commissioner Robert Hoffman agrees. ?Given the power imbalance...[t]here really can?t be legitimate consent,? he says.

The new law makes sex between prison and jail employees and prisoners a felony offense. But AIUSA officials point out that the measure still has significant loopholes. For instance, pre-trial detainees held in local jails are not covered by the law. Prisoners doing community service, probation or parole are only protected from pressure by their direct supervisors.

?This law should still be improved,? said Rubenstein, ?but it is a tremendous step in the right direction.?

AIUSA benchmarks for sexual misconduct include the tenets that all sexual contact between staff and prisoners should be illegal; consensual sex between staff and prisoners is not a viable defense; sex between staff and prisoners poses an abuse of power; and prisoners should not be criminally liable for sexual contact because of the power differential.

?I am certainly gratified after all these years in which this issue has been kicking around that Vermont has taken this step,? said Hoffman.

Commissioner Hoffman points out that the law is a security concern as well as an ethical one. He posits that when guards have sexual relations with prisoners ?their judgment is compromised and puts other employees at risk.?

His point is well taken though it falls short of the whole truth. Prisoners are also at risk from sexually abusive guards. PLN?s August, 2006 issue is an expose of a national epidemic of guards sexually abusing prisoners. And while AIUSA admirably focuses concern on the abuse of female prisoners, PLN points out that male prisoners are frequently the victims of sexual abuse by their captors.

Source: Vermont Press Bureau

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