The surprise to many is that the corrections field is so far ahead on confronting a culture of abuse and establishing a comprehensive methodology for reducing it.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was signed into law in September 2003. Fourteen years later, prisons and jails have information and guidance that make secure facilities safer for those who are confined. Topics run the gamut from prevention, screening, training, incident reporting, and response and investigation to discipline, victim assistance, agency-level reporting, and audits.
Incident reporting is a known hurdle in broader society. The reasons why victims do not report are legion. As a result, perpetrators often have continued to harm more victims.
Looking to the corrections model, we find the following.
Reporting – Prisons and Jails
§ 115.51 Inmate reporting
(a) The agency shall provide multiple internal ways for inmates to privately report sexual abuse and sexual harassment, retaliation by other inmates or staff for reporting sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and staff neglect or violation of responsibilities that may have contributed to such incidents.
(b) The agency shall also provide at least one way for inmates to report abuse or harassment to a public or private entity or office that is not part of the agency, and that is able to receive and immediately forward inmate reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment to agency officials, allowing the inmate to remain anonymous upon request. Inmates detained solely for civil immigration purposes shall be provided information on how to contact relevant consular officials and relevant officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
(c) Staff shall accept reports made verbally, in writing, anonymously, and from third parties and shall promptly document any verbal reports.
(d) The agency shall provide a method for staff to privately report sexual abuse and sexual harassment of inmates.
What if victims in civilian society had a secure way to report incidents and could also keep some control over what happens next? Would that increase reporting and help create a permanent cultural change? Perhaps each state could create its own website/phone center for this purpose.
A reporting system could collect incident data plus the victim’s preferences for actions taken in response to the report.
- Victim’s name – with 100% anonymity ensured; coded for privacy in any system reports
- Incident details – perpetrator name if known; location of incident(s); nature of assault/intrusion; place of employment (if a workplace incident)
- Action requested by victim:
- Take no action, but make my anonymized data accessible for comparison by law enforcement with other reported incidents
- Take no action now, but contact me if you need my testimony in a future legal action
- Take no action now, but ask me later if I’m willing to testify
- Release my incident report to law enforcement/prosecutor (anonymized or with ID)
- Release my incident report to my place of employment (anonymized or with ID)
- Contact me to discuss how I can protect myself from future harassment/assault
A discussion of policy-level action on this topic can be found at https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/sexual-assault-justice-initiative-could-help-metoo-create-lasting-change