How do I work with corrections officials who deny that sexual abuse could ever happen at their facility?
The first step is to find common ground. Most corrections officials want to run safe facilities and will agree that even one incident of sexual abuse in the facility is too many. Like other communities and groups of people, many corrections staff prefer to believe that the problems are happening somewhere else. Unless you are faced with evidence that there is a significant problem at the facility, you may not have to change their minds to set up effective programs for people in the facility.
It is also possible that the facility is very safe, and you can acknowledge that to the staff. Emphasize that this means you can work together to make sure that it stays safe. It benefits everyone when survivors get the help they need.
You may have heard from survivors already and know that abuse is happening in the facility. In this case, you must determine what your goal is for working with the staff. Are you advocating for an investigation to be done? Are you concerned about retaliation against a survivor? Is staff’s denial that abuse could happen preventing them from implementing policies and practices that would make the facility safer?
Whatever your goal is, start there. Be careful to respect the privacy and confidentiality of any survivors who have disclosed to you. Express your concerns to corrections staff in simple, clear terms. Emphasize that you have shared goals. Listen to and be respectful of the corrections officials’ perspectives. Offer to be helpful. Ask yourself what survivors need most from you in this interaction, while keeping a longer term strategy in mind. Sometimes, it is better to yield a given argument to stay at the table than to take on every battle — as long as you can do so without betraying survivors or leaving anyone in danger.
If you have questions about how to work with a specific facility, we can help. Please complete our simple technical assistance request form.