Stop Prisoner Rape Affidavit in ACLU, et al v. Reno

February 25, 1996

Affidavit in ACLU, et al v. Reno 

Make a Difference

Your support helps the ACLU defend privacy rights and a broad range of civil liberties.

Give Now

I, Stephen Donaldson, of New York, New York, do hereby depose and swear: 

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. SPR is a national organization, founded in 1980 and incorporated in New York state in 1984. 

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 prison 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 principle 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 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 http://www.igc.apc.org/spr/. 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. The SPR home page receives approximately 5,000 visits per week. 

6. 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. 

7. The SPR Web site contains a variety of textual and graphical documents concerning prisoner rape: a number of testimonials and excerpts of letters from survivors of prisoner rape, information on high profile cases that SPR monitors, SPR reports on national and state legislation dealing with the problem of prisoner rape, government documents, statistical reports, bibliographies, AIDS prevention information, articles, transcripts of lectures, advice literature to prisoners, press releases, news alerts, and SPR legal documents to assist prisoners and lawyers. 

8. 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." 

9. SPR also provides extensive information to the general public through postings to the Usenet Newsgroups of the Internet, especially "alt.prisons" and "talk.rape." Some of what we post includes occasional materials of the type described above in connection with our Web site. 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 quotes 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. 

10. SPR also makes extensive use of electronic mail via the Internet for internal communications: messages to those who have agreed to be placed on our electronic mailing list, and messages disseminated through listserver programs to subscribers of particular lists. These listserver programs include lists dedicated to stopping rape, prison issues and incarceration health care issues, among others. We have no control over subscriptions to these lists. SPR is currently in the process of setting up our own listserver subscription operation. The content of outgoing electronic mail shows the same features as messages to Usenet Newsgroups described above. 

11. 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." 

12. Although SPR has never received a complaint regarding the explicit nature of the materials on our Web Site, 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 fully cooperated with Surfwatch, the most widely-used Internet blocking software. Surfwatch blocks entry to the SPR home page to its customers. SPR believes that this kind of voluntary blocking by Internet users is far more effective than government regulation of the Internet because it allows for greater freedom of choice. The two options to minimize the risk of prosecution (which I discuss below) are both technically and economically infeasible for a small non-profit like SPR. 

13. 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. 

14. 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 prison rape and informing the general public of the brutality of prison 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. 

15. 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 prison rape survivors, as well as to those tempted by criminal lifestyles by confirming their fear of prisoner rape. 

16. 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. However, SPR is unsure if even voluntary blocking services such as Surfwatch would protect us from criminal prosecution or other sanctions. 

17. 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 those imprisoned on surviving rapes; this advice is necessarily written in a similar language style as those imprisoned, in order to reach the wide range of the prison population. 

18. 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 prison rape by offering a forum for minors 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. 

19. 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 forced, 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. 

20. 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 brutality of prison rape to the general public would be severely compromised. 

I swear that the foregoing statements are true to the best of my knowledge and belief. 

Stephen Donaldson 

Subscribed and sworn before me on this Day of February, 1996. 

Statistics image