There are some extremely horrifying allegations coming to of Oklahoma regarding the treatment of female inmates by male jailers. The allegations include sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and more:
Four former Delaware County jail female inmates have filed a civil lawsuit in Tulsa federal court accusing the sheriff of covering up such crimes as rape and sexual battery as well as blackmail attempts and death threats committed against them by jailers.
Those filing the suit Wednesday were Sherry England, Katrina Rogers, Cynthia Craig and Marie Watson.
Craig, 40, described in the lawsuit as “mentally disabled,” said then-reserve deputy Bill Sanders Sr. raped her several times in one day in a jail shower. Craig said she was afraid to scream because Sanders told her “he would send her down the river.” She said the deputy forced her to scrub her body while he watched.
. . .
England, 49, states in the lawsuit that jailers would “bargain” with female inmates. Inmates who exposed their breasts were given cigarettes, cupcakes, candy and personal items they could not obtain while they were in jail, England states.
England states that when she refused to show her breasts, she was shown “deliberate indifference to her medical needs.”
She states she is an epileptic who requires medication to prevent seizures. She states that she had five seizures during her 18 days in the jail.
There’s a lot more, and I recommend that you go read the entire article. Perhaps even more appalling than all of the allegations of abuse is the allegation that the sheriff rehired Sanders, the man responsible for a vast majority of the abuse mentioned in the lawsuit, despite his history of “sexual misconduct.”
So, we’ve got several issues going here. First, there’s the obvious issue of the abuse itself. There’s sexual violence being perpetrated by jailers, and sadly and outrageously, it’s hardly a freak occurrence. There’s, specifically, sexual violence being committed against women with disabilities, who are sitting at the intersection of at least two extreme vulnerabilities to such violence (as PWD and inmates). There’s harassment, blackmail and death threats. And lastly, there’s the denial of needed medical treatment.
Secondly, we’ve got the set of conditions that makes this kind of abuse possible: extreme power coupled with no accountability. These jailers more or less control inmates’ every move. They have a huge amount of access to inmates in isolated spaces. And those overseeing them apparently don’t care about whether or not they abuse that power with horrific acts of violence.
And lastly, every single time I read one of these stories, I ask myself over and over and over again, why the fuck are male prison guards and jailers allowed access to female inmates?
It doesn’t make sense to me. It just plain doesn’t. Not because women can’t abuse other women physically, emotionally or sexually. They can, and I’ve heard stories of female guards doing exactly that. Not because I think that every male guard is a rapist waiting in the wings. And, importantly, not because I think it’s better for male guards to be abusing male inmates.
It doesn’t make sense to me for the reasons I described above. The situation of one person controlling the every move of another is always going to be ripe for abuse. But it’s especially so when the person doing the controlling is a man and the person being controlled is a woman. It’s setting up a system that just plain encourages patriarchal violence (even more than just the system of prison altogether could be argued to). It’s creating a job position that will attract rapists.
We live in a world where we have men’s and women’s bathrooms, and little freak outs at the very concept of a person using the “wrong” bathroom, or a bathroom that someone else perceives as being wrong. We live in a world where men are not allowed in women’s locker rooms, or women’s changing rooms at department stores. We live, in fact, in a world where jails are segregated by gender for some very good reasons. And we also, it’s very important to remind, live in a world where actual women — trans women — are regularly forced out of women’s prisons/jails and into the highly dangerous environment of men’s prisons/jails out of supposed “concern” for the cis women inmates. (Hopefully it goes without saying that that the reason is actually transphobia and a denial of trans women’s gender identities.)
But we’re going to let male guards/jailers into these prisons/jails to control and punish female inmates?
Really, how many stories about women being raped in prison/jail by male guards do we have to hear before we finally get it through our heads that this setup is a bad fucking idea? “It won’t eradicate abuse” is not an excuse to not lower its frequency. It may indeed be sad that gender segregation is necessary, and it is indeed far from being an overall solution the the problem — after all, inmate-on-inmate rape in male prisons is rampant. But it strikes me as an absolutely necessary step, and one that should have been taken and enforced many years ago.