The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and the Importance of Litigation in Its Enforcement: Holding Guards Who Rape Accountable

Article excerpt

I don't even know how to begin this story. I do my best to shove it deep down inside and keep it there, out of sight. But something needs to be said about what happened. It just has to be told as it was--bluntly and without hesitation. So take a warning: this story is graphic and despicable. Rape always is. Strangely, it's the little things that haunt me most. A whiff of cologne. The jingling of keys. The turn of a lock. In a click, I am back in that room. Locked in the room that is the subject of sweats and nightmares that shake me from my sleep. Even now, five years later.

NO. 07-2-01513-0



1. The Plaintiffs in this case are women who have been, are, or will be confined by the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC). They bring this lawsuit to challenge specific acts of sexual assault by prison guards, as well as the systematic failure of DOC to take the steps necessary to prevent sexual assaults by staff in their institutions and to hold offending staff members accountable.

2. Article I, Section 14 of the Washington State Constitution guarantees to every person incarcerated in the DOC that they will not be subject to cruel punishment....

3. Subjecting women to an environment in which they are sexually assaulted, and in which sexual assaults are likely to occur, is cruel punishment.

4. The Class Defendants have a special relationship with inmates in DOC which arises because when a person is arrested and imprisoned for the protection of the public, she is deprived of her liberty as well as her ability to care for herself.

5. As a result of this special relationship, the Class Defendants have a duty to keep prisoners incarcerated in DOC facilities in health and safety. This includes the duty to take reasonable precautions to protect prisoners from sexual assaults by DOC employees and other prisoners.

6. The Class Defendants have a duty to properly supervise correctional officers and dismiss those who have sexual contact with prisoners.

7. As detailed in this complaint, the Class Defendants have breached their duties and, in turn, subjected Plaintiffs to cruel punishment in violation of Washington's Constitution, by incarcerating women in an environment in which sexual assaults have occurred and are likely to occur in the future.

8. As further detailed in this Complaint, the individual correctional officers named herein have committed the intentional torts of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress by committing sexual assaults and engaging in sexual misconduct. (1)

Sexual assault is a popular subject for the prisons. The prison administration vigorously publicizes the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). They tell us we have rights. They tell us that we don't have to be subjected to any unwanted attention from the guards or other employees. They tell us they are there to help us. It even sounds noble. It sounds as if they believe what they are saying. Unfortunately, we later realized that they were simply going through the required motions. On the surface, PREA looks terrific; it appears to be a sincere effort to prevent sexual abuse. But it's always what's under the surface that matters, isn't it? And under the cloak of PREA, things have not changed. There are still guards forcing themselves on prisoners. There are still guards making sexual remarks to prisoners. And there are still those in Administration who allow sham investigations to take place, ultimately finding in favor of their staff. The charges are always "unfounded." The victim is humiliated and then discredited. We cannot win if we come forward.

In 2006, if an inmate made an allegation of sexual abuse against a staff member, the first thing that happened is that the inmate was moved to segregation. She would stay there as long as it took to conduct an "investigation. …