Shows like Orange is the New Black, Oz, and Prison Break have communities talking about people’s experiences of being incarcerated. At some point, the topic of sexual violence comes up, whether it is a joke about how to pick up soap in the shower or protective pairing (when an inmate of higher status offers protection to a less powerful inmate in exchange for goods or services, often nonconsensual sex).
What is available to support people who are incarcerated*?
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was passed in 2003 with unanimous support from both parties in Congress. (From the Executive Summary ).
“The goal of this rule-making is to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities… it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable—or even deserved—consequence of criminality. Prison rape can have severe consequences for victims, for the security of correctional facilities, and for the safety and well-being of the communities to which nearly all incarcerated persons will eventually return.”
As Just Detention International proclaims, rape is not part of the penalty. Everyone deserves to be safe, regardless of their status. Those who may be struggling with mental illness, survivors of previous sexual abuse, or those who are LGBTQ identified are more vulnerable to violence while incarcerated.
How do people who experience sexual violence access services in Virginia?
If someone is housed at a Virginia Department of Corrections facility, they have the option of reporting any incident to any employee verbally or in writing through a grievance, dialing #55, or writing to the PREA post office box (PO Box 17115, Richmond, VA 23226).
When a person dials #55 they can leave a confidential voicemail for the PREA department or speak to an Action Alliance advocate. We have protocols in place should someone need immediate in person assistance, for situations such as hospital accompaniment after an assault. Advocates provide emotional support, information, resources, and referrals.
For local and regional jails in Virginia, many local sexual assault crisis centers have similar arrangements.
What impact do these services have?
There are some unique challenges to providing services to people who are incarcerated. Their backgrounds, needs, and concerns can be different from those out in the community. Often folks are looking for support from anyone outside of or beyond the systems they engage in on a daily basis. Fear of retaliation from staff or other inmates may prevent someone from disclosing. The stress and conditions of incarceration are traumatizing and may trigger survivors. Folks who have used the PREA hotline or written us have said, “Thank you for making me feel less alone.” and “This is the first time I told someone about what happened when I was locked up twenty years ago.” Another person specifically called back the PREA hotline to let Action Alliance staff know that “they (the PREA investigator) took my report seriously. I have been moved to a different unit and things are better. Thank you.”
Want to learn more about PREA in Virginia? Attend our 2nd Annual PREA summit
Beyond Compliance: Building Trauma-Informed Partnerships
NEW DATE-NOVEMBER 9 – THIS IS A CHANGE FROM NOVEMBER 8. NEW LOCATION-CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA
*Note: As part of an anti-oppression framework, it is important to acknowledge the shift in language, moving away from terms that dehumanize individuals. From The Marshall Project. -Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative puts it this way in his book, Just Mercy: “We’ve institutionalized policies that reduce people to their worst acts and permanently label them ‘criminal,’ ‘murderer,’ ‘rapist,’ ‘thief,’ ‘drug dealer,’ ‘sex offender,’ ‘felon’ — identities they cannot change regardless of the circumstances of their crimes or any improvements they might make in their lives.”
Reed Bohn is the Senior Hotline Crisis Services Specialist: Training at the Action Alliance. He has worked and volunteered for HIV prevention, LGBTQ+ and anti-violence agencies.
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