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The abuse of inmates and prisoners by correctional staff has long been an under-reported and serious issue. Molestation, rape, and physical assault should not be part of anyone’s experience in a correctional facility. Unfortunately, the power dynamics of prison lend themselves toward abuse, and the career path of prison guard seems to be one sought out by those with questionable morals in many cases.
Even in situations where the inmate offers consent to the guard or prison staff member engaging in a relationship with them, the power dynamics are such that true consent is impossible. In other words, any sexual contact between an inmate and someone employed by the prison is inevitably a form of assault or rape. While such actions are in fact crimes, they rarely wind-up prosecuted.
In a tragic announcement that will likely shock no one, the routine abuse of those incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials is both widespread and going completely unpunished. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)has published a disturbing report about how ICE refuses to take responsibility for the actions of its staff.
One case out of Pennsylvania is particularly upsetting. It involves a 19-year-old woman with a three-year-old child who is sexually assaulted in the Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania. She took the very brave step of filing a lawsuit against the detention center. In fact, the employee who assaulted her even plead guilty to criminal institutional sexual assault as defined under Pennsylvania state law. However, the facility does not accept responsibility for that assault or any other assault that happens while people are incarcerated under the authority of ICE.
Much attention has been paid in recent months to the questionable incarceration of undocumented immigrants in the United States and the forcible separation of parents from their children during these detainment periods. Fewer people seem to be aware of or concerned about the fact that inmates also face sexual violence from those very federal employees charged with keeping them safe. Compassion mandates that anyone held in jail, prison, or a detention center should receive just and humane treatment. More importantly, those who commit crimes against the dignity of another person’s bodily autonomy deserve both criminal and financial culpability for those crimes.
Immigrants, especially those without proper documentation, are particularly vulnerable to institutional violence and sexual assault. It is a true blemish on the complexion of our country’s civil liberties that we turn a blind eye to sexual assaults that occur in prison, regardless of the inmate’s alleged crime. Those who cross the border seeking asylum or a new life in the United States do not deserve incarceration, unless they commit serious crimes here in our country.
More importantly, if they wind up incarcerated, those individuals deserve the same basic human dignity afforded to all citizens of this nation. No one should have to fear sexual violence while paying a societal that. Both ICE and the United States must do better, both for the sake of our international reputation and for the very soul of our country.
For previous Ladybud articles about prison, click here.