Virginia Investigates Guard-Inmate Sex
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RICHMOND, VA — State officials have ordered an investigation into complaints of widespread sexual abuse by guards at Virginia’s largest women’s prison, the Associated Press reported today.
In the past nine months, 25 sexual misconduct complaints have been made by inmates at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, AP said. Nine incidents were reported in the last nine months of 1998, the year the prison opened.
Those cases are “the tip of the iceberg … in this little cesspool (of) seductions,” inmate Bobinette Fearce told the AP.
She and others interviewed by the AP said most inmates are afraid to report abuse because they fear reprisals from guards. The prison near Charlottesville has 900 inmates and nearly 500 employees.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Donna Lee told the news service that she knew of no other women’s prison with such a high rate of sexual abuse complaints as Fluvanna’s.
“That’s a strong indication of a very serious problem,” she said.
There are about 140,000 women in U.S. jails and prisons. Inmate complaints typically are investigated by the prison system itself.
In response to AP’s report, State Secretary of Public Safety Gary Aronhalt said he was launching his own investigation. “These are routine complaints. Sometimes they are made by inmates to gain advantage in the correctional center, other times they are founded,” Aronhalt said.
He said authorities are prepared to invoke a new state law that can send a guard to prison for up to five years for having sex with an inmate, a law he said was passed “to put the fear of God” into guards.
According to the AP, three Fluvanna correctional officers and a maintenance worker have resigned or been fired this year on charges ranging from giving gifts to inmates to sexual abuse, Senior Warden Patti Leigh Huffman said. Four other employees were disciplined and two resigned after allegations were made, she said. Investigations are under way in three other cases.
Inmate Yolanda Gross, 44, said three guards have sexually abused her at Fluvanna, including one who came to her cell at night and another who assaulted her out of view of security cameras.
“He said, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it,'” Ms. Gross said.
“If we speak out, other officers agitate you, write you tickets. Your job, your school, your visits are taken away from you,” she said. “We’re not animals.”
Inmate Krystle Hill, 21, said she was sexually harassed for months by the same guard who assaulted Ms. Gross. The guard was fired and a grand jury later this month will consider whether to bring charges.
Ms. Huffman said she encourages inmates to come forward. But inmate Carol Arnette, 27, said the atmosphere is still sexually charged on her cell block, even after she accused one guard of sexual misconduct and the guard resigned.
“After I shower they will stand at my door,” Ms. Arnette said. “It is so humiliating.”
Even if inmates agree to have sex with guards, it is not considered consensual by the Department of Corrections, because guards have such power over inmates.
Human rights groups say the answer is all-female staff in women’s prisons. Ms. Huffman said that is impossible because of equal employment laws.
To learn more about the rights of prisoners, link to the ACLU’s webpage at /issues/prisons/hmprisons.html.
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