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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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The Cross Gender Monitoring Project
3rd and Final Annual Report

i) Handling of SexualAbuse Allegations - The Context

Our findings indicate that FSW were overwhelmingly negative about the present approach to handling allegations of sexual misconduct. (This approach is described in detail in the Findings section.) It is apparent that Federally Sentenced Women are not utilizing the Inmate Grievance System, or the staff misconduct system, to deal with these types of allegations.

It has long been recognized through research and inquiries, that sexual harassment and sexual assault are violations that are difficult for victims to report. The reasons for not reporting are:

    fear of not being believed, particularly when the perpetrator has authority or a trust relationship with the victim;

    the social standing of the perpetrator as compared to the victim;

    the fact that these actions are purposely done without witnesses;

    the volatile nature of the allegations; and,

    fear of reprisals - the context of a prison makes it even more difficult for women to come forward.

A review of Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International Reports, as mentioned earlier, indicates that women prisoners in the United States are very reluctant to come forward, experience serious reprisals often involving their liberty, and are largely unsuccessful in having allegations upheld and being protected from their abusers. A follow-up 1998 report by Human Rights Watch16 states the following:

Virtually all of the women incarcerated in Michigan who were interviewed for All Too Familiar and who had lodged complaints of sexual harassment or abuse have suffered some form of retaliation by the accused officer, his colleagues, or other inmates. As these guards wield near-absolute power over the women, retaliation can be devastating to the women's security, health and psychological well-being. We documented threats of physical harm, abusive put-frisks, verbal harassment, and trumped-up misconduct tickets that resulted in women being denied visitation rights with their families and losing the chance of early release from prison. By failing to monitor vigorously for retaliatory behavior and to discipline guards and employees who participate in retaliatory behavior, the corrections department sends a message to both the women and the guards that corrections employees may abuse, harass, threaten and harm women with impunity. Impunity in any context is a serious problem with a chilling effect on victims of violence and discrimination. However, impunity in prisons is particularly devastating because, quite simply, incarcerated women have no protection, no recourse, and nowhere to hide.

In order to prevent and protect women prisoners from sexual misconduct, it is essential that an impartial, effective and fair approach to handling such allegations is trusted by FSW, accused perpetrators, unions and management within CSC and the community. We have already noted that women inmates do not have faith in the present approach to dealing with sexual misconduct allegations by way of the Inmate Grievance system. The majority of staff respondents and the vast majority of FSW respondents felt that there are circumstances in which there should automatically be an outside investigation of an alleged incident, identifying sexual harassment and assault most frequently.

Staff as well, particularly male staff, have expressed real concerns about how impartial an investigation of sexual misconduct conducted by the institutions or CSC would be. They fear the inmate would be believed and their career and lives would be ruined. They also fear community groups automatically believe a woman prisoner if she makes an allegation of sexual misconduct. Liability concerns of the CSC and Solicitor General Canada make it possible to see the interests of those investigating under the present approach as needing to be seen to be believing FSW over a staff person. Certainly, the majority of staff do not want to be forced to escort a woman prisoner in the community alone for fear of false allegations and the consequence of this to their lives.

Section ii) outlines four options to replace the present Inmate Grievance System for dealing with such allegations. Section iii) sets out minimum standards that need to be met by any option that is adopted. Section iv) sets out the recommended option.

16 Human Rights Watch (1998) Nowhere to Hide: Retaliation Against Women in Michigan State Prisons pp.4-5.