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Providing a Victim-Centered Response to Sexual Assault in Confinement Facilities
August 12th, 2013 Posted by

In an effort to help improve victim-centered responses to sexual assault in correctional environments, I am excited to announce the release of a companion to the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Adults/Adolescents (SAFE Protocol) entitled Recommendations for Administrators of Prisons, Jails, and Community Confinement Facilities for Adapting the U.S. Department of Justice’s A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, Adults/Adolescents (the Guide).

Sexual assault in correctional environments is a persistent problem, with serious, life-altering consequences for its victims.  Each year roughly 80,000 inmates experience sexual abuse.  We know that victims often feel they have no recourse – that because they were raped in prison, no one will care and there is no hope of punishment for the offender.  We also know that facilities are striving to provide better responses to such inmates. 

The Guide builds on the existing best practices outlined in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women publication, National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Adults/Adolescents, 2d., and is tailored to address the unique needs of victims in corrections.  For example, the Guide includes discussions on topics such as balancing safety and security needs of the facility with the victim’s needs, and making efforts to offer victims privacy, to the extent possible, in the aftermath of sexual assault.   In addition to helping facilities provide victim-centered care, the Guide can help correctional institutions meet requirements in the Department’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards relating to coordinated responses and partnering with victim advocacy organizations.

In developing the Guide, OVW held focus groups with experts from prisons, jails, and community corrections, including correctional administrators, medical practitioners, advocates, and experts from juvenile corrections and lockups.  OVW and the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) also held a joint workshop on rape crisis center response to victims in corrections in order to learn more about issues, challenges, and potential promising practices for partnerships between rape crisis centers and corrections. We heard about the challenges faced by victims in correctional environments – things like difficulty communicating with advocates and overall lack of control of their lives.  We also heard about challenges faced by the correctional organizations, such as the need to maintain security while meeting the victim’s needs.  Lastly, we heard about effective best practices.  For example, we heard about a program where corrections and community-based advocates had partnered, and advocates came to the facility to meet with victims.  This included cross-training so the advocates understood the unique needs of the victim population and the facility and the correctional organization understood the role of the advocates.

At OVW we understand that confinement facilities have unique needs and face specific challenges in responding to sexual assault. This new product will assist administrators of prisons, jails, and community confinement facilities in drafting or revising protocols for an immediate response to incidences and reports of sexual assault, and also identifies issues and recommendations for administrators of lockups and juvenile corrections.  This guide is just one step to ensuring safety and providing hope for sexual assault victims in correctional settings. We are excited to continue this work in partnership with Just Detention International (JDI), which is hosting a series of webinars and developing a web page with tools to help improve the capacity for rape crisis centers and correctional facilities to work together and comply with PREA standards. 

The PREA Resource Center and Vera Institute of Justice will be hosting a webinar on September 10, at 2:00 to provide further information on the Guide, its development, and how to use it.  Presenters include Marnie Shiels of OVW, Tara Graham of the PREA Resource Center, Allison Hastings of the Vera Institute of Justice, Linda McFarlane of Just Detention International, and Jennifer Feicht of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.  To register, go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5T2GNMG.

Download Recommendations for Administrators of Prisons, Jails, and Community Confinement Facilities for Adapting the U.S. Department of Justice’s A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, Adults/Adolescents at http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/publications.html.