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Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake
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U.S. Senate Introduces Groundbreaking Bill to Bring Rape Crisis Services Behind Bars

  • May 13, 2020

The Sexual Abuse Services in Detention Act would establish the country’s first-ever rape crisis hotline for prisoners

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., May 13, 2020 —The U.S. Senate took a major step toward bringing safety and dignity to incarcerated people this afternoon by introducing the Sexual Abuse Services in Detention Act (SASIDA). Sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), SASIDA calls for the establishment of a rape crisis hotline dedicated to helping adults and children behind bars — providing a service that is free, safe to use, and desperately needed.

“Sexual abuse is a systemic, nationwide problem in U.S. detention facilities — and for many years the vast of majority of people who are victimized have not been able to get the help they need,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International, which is championing the bill. “If this bill passes, incarcerated survivors will no longer have to suffer in silence.”

SASIDA would fund an external rape crisis hotline that offers crisis intervention and emotional support services to people held in prisons, jails, and youth facilities nationwide. The bill also spells out that the hotline will support people who have been sexually abused either during or prior to their incarceration — a crucial provision given that 86 percent of incarcerated women are survivors of abuse in the community.

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc behind bars, the proposed bill comes at a time of particular need. Scores of detention facilities have been under lockdown for weeks, which has halted many outside services and made prisoners’ communication with the outside world virtually impossible.

“The same factors that have led to an uptick in sexual abuse and domestic violence in the community also exist in prisons, jails, and youth detention facilities,” said Stannow. “But the chief difference is that we have many tools to help survivors in the community and, indeed, rape crisis hotlines are fielding more calls than ever. Kudos to senators Cornyn and Schatz for having the courage to recognize that incarcerated survivors also deserve support services.”

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Just Detention International is a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention.