Affidavit of Stephen Donaldson in ACLU v. Reno



ACLU et al. v. RENO
(No. 96-963)

(No. 96-1458)  



I, Stephen Donaldson, of New York, New York, do hereby declare: 

1. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University and have also completed three years in Columbia's Religion Department at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I currently hold a presidential appointment as University Seminar Associate at Columbia as well as being a freelance writer, editor and researcher. 

2. In 1984 I became the Eastern Regional Director for People Organized to Stop Rape of Imprisoned Persons (POSRIP), now known as Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc. (SPR), a non-profit corporation dedicated to combating the rape of male and female prisoners and providing assistance to survivors of jailhouse rape. 

. 3. Since 1988 I have served as the President of this organization. As President of SPR I make public appearances such as speeches, lectures, television and radio interviews, and panel discussions. I also write informational brochures for the general public, as well as survivors of prisoner rape, and authored the "Prisoner Rape Education Project," published in August, 1993 by Safer Society Press under the sponsorship of the New York State Council of Churches. 

On December 29, 1993, the New York Times published my Op-Ed article entitled "The Rape Crisis Behind Bars," and in May, 1995, USA Today magazine published my article "Can We Put an End to Inmate Rape?" I am a junior author of an exhaustive research paper on sexual victimization in the prisons of Nebraska delivered in May, 1994, at the Midwest Psychological Association and accepted for publication by the Journal for Sex Research. I am also the original author of a Brandeis-type amicus brief (signed by Frank Dunbaugh, Esq.) to the United States Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994), which manifestly influenced both oral argument and the favorable unanimous decision of the Court. I was the principal witness at a hearing by the Joint Committee on Public Safety of the Massachusetts legislature on May 23, 1994 on the subject of rape of prisoners. I am a rape counselor, trained by the Rape Crisis Program of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. I have also been the chair of the Committee on Male Survivors of the New York City Task Force Against Sexual Assault, a city government body. I am a member of the Board of Directors of Human Issue, Inc. I am a survivor of rape behind bars. 

4. The purpose of SPR is to provide education, information, and advocacy at all levels regarding sexual assault in our nation's prisons, jails and juvenile institutions. We provide encouragement and advice to survivors, as well as counseling and legal support. The Executive Director of the American Correctional Association, the nation's foremost professional association of wardens and other incarceration professionals, recognized the value of our work in a letter to us stating, "I congratulate you on your efforts and hope that by raising the profile of this crime, more will be done about it." Professional publications such as "Corrections Compendium," "Correctional Health Care Management," "Criminal Justice Newsletter," "Corrections Digest," "CorHealth" (newsletter of the American Correctional Health Services Association), "On the Line" (newsletter of the American Correctional Association), "Prison Legal News," and "United States Law Week" have cited our work. 

5. As part of our education and information campaign, SPR maintains a site on the Internet's World Wide Web that relates the experience of prisoners who have been raped, offers advice, and provides information to the general public on the issue of prisoner rape. We make information available to anyone who accesses our site located at The SPR Web site has been a vital means for our organization to publicize its materials, and we have obtained numerous volunteers, donations, and press inquiries as a direct result of it. In 1995 Impact Online named the SPR Web Site one of the 30 best non-profit sites on the World Wide Web and the best site on the Internet for prison issues. In January, 1996, we were given the "Top 5% of the Web" award by Point Survey. 

6. During the week of March 6-March 13, 1996, the SPR homepage received 10,282 "hits" from 1,932 unique host computers and 39 different countries. As of March 17, the Web site contained 2.2 megabytes of content. 

7. Our materials are recognized by the community as being valuable. Among the dozens of links to our pages are ones from the sites of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (, Florida Department of Corrections (, Amnesty International (, Cornell Law School (, and Kent Meridian High School ( 

8. At the end of February, 1996, our Web site was named "a winner in the Activism category of the Iway 500 listing. It placed twenty-first of 25 winners. The Iway 500 is an annual ranking of the best 500 Web sites in the world. [Iway's] staff rated each site for seven criteria: Serves Intended Purpose, Depth of Content, Accuracy,Accessibility, Design/Style, Navigation, and Performance." 

9. The SPR Web Site is provided by The Institute for Global Communications. Ellen Spertus, a member of the SPR Board of Directors, handles the technical aspects of the SPR Web Site. I decide on the contents of the SPR Web Site and give instructions to Ms. Spertus on what to include or exclude. Information is sent to SPR from prisoners and former prisoners across the country. I decide whether material is important and instructive enough to include on the site, but the original and often uneducated language is retained for reasons of authenticity and because numerous concepts involved in this subject have no agreed-upon scholarly equivalents. Ms. Spertus and I jointly decide the format in which it will be placed on the SPR Web Site. Ms. Spertus reads comments from visitors to the SPR home page, which is an electronic table of contents, and places relevant comments into the SPR Web site. 

10. The SPR Web site contains a variety of textual and graphical documents concerning prisoner rape. See the parties' Stipulations regarding SPR's Web site content for details. 

11. The SPR Web Site also links to other Web Sites relevant to the problem of prisoner rape such as The Federal Bureau of Prisons, The National Institute of Corrections, the American Bar Association, magazine articles, and scholarly texts. The sites that the SPR Web Site are linked to are in turn linked to other sites. It would be infeasible for SPR to screen this virtually endless chain of links for material that might be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive." 

12. SPR also provides extensive information of a similar type to the general public through postings to the Usenet Newsgroups of the Internet, especially "alt.prisons" and "talk.rape." Many of the posts to newsgroups consist of answers to questions or comments on messages posted to others, and in accordance with Internet practice usually quote verbatim the question or comment that elicited our response. Thus, these quotes reproduce language used in the original message, which must be done for the clarity of our response. We exercise no control over access to Usenet Newsgroups. 

13. It is also impossible for us to verify the age of persons who read messages posted to newsgroups (online discussion groups). Anyone who is interested can read it whenever they like. Like online mailing lists, messages in newsgroups are transmitted automatically. These posts may contain language which might be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive," particularly when quoting from material written by or for prisoners, or when responding to other people's posted messages. 

14. SPR also makes extensive use of electronic mail via the Internet for internal communications, for messages to those who have agreed to be placed on our electronic mailing list, and for messages disseminated through listserver programs to subscribers of particular lists. See Stipulation for details. I and other officers of Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc. frequently use e-mail to communicate with each other, with members and supporters, with persons who have asked to be placed on our electronic mailing list, and with those sending us messages via e-mail. Some of those who have asked to be on our electronic mailing list are anonymous. We do not place an age restriction on our membership and therefore do not ask the age of those asking to be placed on our electronic mailing list, or who send e-mail to us. In the course of our daily business, we may send e-mail to the groups of addressees or individual recipients selected from them, which posts may contain language which might be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive," particularly when quoting from material written by or for prisoners, or when responding to other people's posted messages (which are normally quoted verbatim in the response for the sake of clarity and continuity). 

15. Information provided by SPR on our Web Site is necessarily graphic and sexually explicit. Discussing the issue of rape, especially in the unique sexual environment constituted by single-gender confinement institutions, without discussing sex is nearly impossible. To avoid offending people who do not want to read materials on the SPR Web Site, the SPR home page contains two disclaimers regarding the sexually explicit nature of some of the contents. Even with these disclaimers, the materials included in the SPR Web Site may still put SPR at risk of violating the statute prohibiting materials on the Internet that are "patently offensive" or "indecent." 

16. The SPR Web Site contains prisoner accounts of rape that are graphic and uncensored. The language used by prisoners in these accounts is raw, employs street language, and explicitly discusses violence, sex and certain excretory functions used to humiliate victims. SPR believes that the prisoners' accounts are extremely important in educating the general public because they convey the horrible realities of prisoner rape in ways that no statistics can ever hope to do. In addition, the prisoner testimonials offer counsel to other prisoners who are rape survivors. Censoring the content to remove all explicit references to sex and violence denies these prisoners a forum to discuss their experiences. The language must address the uneducated characteristics of the bulk of potential prisoners if our purpose of warning potential targets is to be fulfilled. The SPR Web Site also offers advice on surviving rape and sexual slavery, minimizing the risk of getting AIDS, to those imprisoned; this advice is necessarily written in a similar language style as those imprisoned, in order to reach the wide range of the prison population. 

17. Victims of prisoner rape experience devastating feelings of destroyed self causing relatively high risk of suicidal behavior. Most male victims mistakenly feel a "loss of manhood" as a result of being raped. Many erroneously feel they have been forcefully changed into homosexuals and despair ever regaining a sexual life that was normal to them. The dearth of services available to these victims cause many to become severely depressed. Many male rape survivors turn to violence in an attempt to "reclaim their manhood." SPR believes that our Internet activity is a very effective way to assist victims of prisoner rape by offering a forum for minor and adult survivors to discuss their experiences, openly talk about their anger and fears, receive important survival tips, dispel the uneducated myths surrounding the subject, and help stop the cycle of brutal violence caused by prison rape. 

18. The risk of contracting AIDS in prison as a result of rape is very real and has been termed a "critical issue" in a letter to us by the nation's foremost public official on AIDS, Patricia S. Fleming, the National AIDS Policy Director. SPR believes that our education and outreach campaign saves lives by offering realistic advice to prisoners on safer sex that is necessarily written in the terminology that prisoners use, rather than in clinical terms. Examples of topics addressed include how to safely perform oral sex in situations where some sexual activity is inescapable, how to most safely be anally penetrated when that is unavoidable, and strategies such as "protective pairing" that reduce the number of sex partners as well as decreasing the possibility of being gang-raped. In prison culture, once someone is raped, the chances of being raped again are very high. Therefore, it is extremely important to discuss the issue of safer sex in an honest and realistic manner for prisoners who live in fear of being raped. Denying such information to prisoners puts them at grave risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 

19. While some of our material may be inappropriate for young children, it is important that the material reach older minors. According to numerous studies and a consensus of the literature on this subject, the younger the prisoner, the more likely he is to be targeted for rape behind bars. Therefore, if there is any audience most in need of warning and avoidance advice, it is precisely these minors old enough to be at risk of incarceration. SPR believes that juvenile incarceration institutions are the worst sites for sexual victimization and that it is in these juvenile institutions that males learn the social structure that not only makes possible but encourages rape as a regular and routine practice behind bars. In short, SPR's organizational objective of stopping prisoner rape cannot be fulfilled without addressing minors. 

20. It is technologically infeasible for us to absolutely prevent access to our Web site by younger minors without also making the material inaccessible to adults and older minors. 

21. To my knowledge, SPR has received only one complaint regarding the explicit nature of the materials on our Web Site. However, we understand that some of our material may be inappropriate for children too young to be incarcerated. In order to minimize the risk of such children gaining access to our page, SPR has cooperated with Surfwatch, which I understand to be the most widely-used Internet blocking software. Surfwatch blocks entry to the SPR home page to its customers. 

22. We are currently in the process of establishing listserver mailing lists. At least one of these listserver operations will be open to anyone with an e-mail address, who can subscribe automatically to the list simply by sending a "subscribe" message; any subscriber will be able to post messages. Stop Prisoner Rape will not exercise any control over this process, which will be completely automated. When a subscriber posts a message to the list, the message is automatically distributed to all of the other subscribers on the list. We do not have the resources to monitor all such posts before they are redistributed by the listserver computer program. Therefore we will be unable to assure that all such posts refrain from language which might be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive," nor will we be able to screen subscribers by age, nor will subscribers be able to know the ages of all other subscribers to the listserver list. 

23. I also frequently post messages to listserver lists not operated by us, such as the Stop Rape list, the Prison (educators) List, the Correctional Health Care List, the Criminal Justice list, and to quasi-lists such as the Prison Activists Resouce Center and the MARS bulletin board, and these posts may contain language which might be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive," particularly when quoting from material written by or for prisoners. 

24. As I understand the law, SPR has two courses of action to minimize the possibility of criminal prosecution or sanctions. The first option would be prohibiting minors from accessing our Web Site. We believe it is practically impossible for us to determine whether a visitor to our Web Site is a minor. SPR is committed to providing cost-free and anonymous access to our Web Site. Because of the nature of our constituency, cost-free access is imperative. 

25. Because we currently have no way to verify the age of persons who receive our communications through our Web site, listservs, Usenet newsgroups, and e-mail, we do not know how to comply with the Communications Decency Act without making our material inaccessible to adults and older minors. 

26. The second option would be for SPR to censor all material that might be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive" from our Web Site. This action would prevent many prisoners from sharing their experiences of rape, greatly reducing the ability of the SPR Internet forum in assisting survivors of prisoner rape and informing the general public of the brutality of prisoner rape. The end result would be a marked decrease in the effectiveness of our organization. Maintaining an "adults only" site as well as one for minors is economically infeasible for a small organization like SPR. Moreover, such a procedure would deny important information to minors who have been raped in prison or who fear being raped in prison. 

27. According to numerous studies and a consensus of the literature on this subject, the younger the prisoner, the more likely he is to be targeted for rape behind bars. Therefore, if there is any audience most in need of warning and avoidance advice, it is precisely these minors old enough to be at risk of incarceration. SPR believes that juvenile incarceration institutions are the worst sites for sexual victimization and that it is in these juvenile institutions that males learn the social structure that not only makes possible but encourages rape as a regular and routine practice behind bars. In short, SPR's organizational objective of stopping prisoner rape cannot be fulfilled without addressing minors. A significant portion or our Internet Web site contains recollections of individuals who were raped as minors while incarcerated in prisons with adults or in juvenile detention centers. The sharing of these experiences is invaluable to the many minors who have been imprisoned and are prisoner rape survivors, as well as to those tempted by criminal lifestyles by confirming their fear of prisoner rape. 

28. We do, however, cooperate with and support voluntary ratings programs which are used by special browsers to prevent access to sites deemed inappropriate for the user. This software is already commercially available to parents who wish to restrict their children's access. 

29. With the passage of the on-line decency statute, the Board of Directors of SPR has not made any official decision on access to our Internet page. SPR is unsure if voluntary blocking services such as Surfwatch would protect us from criminal prosecution or other sanctions. 

30. I do not understand how to determine what materials are "patently offensive" or "indecent." To avoid the risk of criminal prosecutions or other sanctions, the SPR Board of Directors would most likely have to eliminate all references to sex and violence on our Web site, leaving a relatively empty site. SPR believes that the result of such a law would greatly cripple our ability to discuss prison rape in a manner that prisoners and former prisoners could both understand and apply to their lives. Likewise, our ability to convey the full brutality of prisoner rape to the general public would be severely compromised. 

31. Included in the ACLU Plaintiffs exhibits are SPR's Web site homepage and a mission statement, excerpts from our Web site documents entitled "AIDS Advice for the Prisoner Rape Survivor" and "Excerpts from Typical Prisoners' Letters on Rape," and documentation of our recognition by Point Survey as one of the top 5% of Web sites, and by Impact Online as one of the best nonprofit sites. I declare, under the penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on this 17th day of March, 1996. 

Stephen Donaldson

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