This has haunted me during these challenging months of COVID news wondering, listening, looking for information.
How is this playing out in places where despair is common, fear a part of day-to-day life for both the detainee and those we charge with doing the detaining, where poor nutrition, poor sanitation, poorer medical and mental health interventions, chronic overcrowding and understaffing create a smudge pot of despair, making it difficult to combat systemic corruption and making depression a kind of rational response to it all? This is infinitely worse in the days of COVID where positive tests among staff add to staffing problems, where COVID among the detained folks is not met with humane care, but is rather left to the best efforts of other ill and infection-exposed detainees with little PPE or even soap.
News is increasingly limited in the press. With volunteers almost completely banned from detention facilities, many programs closed or curtailed, and families prohibited from visiting, there are simply not enough hands or feet or eyes to respond in humane and ethical ways. But, despite pleas from courts, stakeholders, oversight groups and decent people across the country, efforts to identify people with records of responsible behavior during their incarceration and charged with non-violent offences who are a low risk to the public (because of age, health and a willing family to help them plus the availability of monitoring devices where frightened people demand it) lack of action results in continued overwhelming of resources in jails and prisons. Long lists of unprocessed requests for pardons and paroles, unprocessed notifications that a detained person may qualify for a change in status due to changes in the law, courts not meeting in person all leave the problems simmering.
Despair breeds desperate acts but incidents of unrest spilling into violence in prisons is not being widely reported. And the families of the detained live in terror of their loved one having an unofficial death sentence because of poor management in detention facilities.
The great irony is that, while we encourage our loved ones to be “model prisoners” and to do their best to keep a low profile (so they don’t draw the attention of the violently mentally ill folks who are a significant part of prison and jail populations), we become increasingly aware of how often laws, regulations and policies are not followed and basic decency is not a part of their treatment.
Here is a point where this is clear. If EVERY detained person who reports a rape or sexual assault while detained were treated as the victim of crime that they are, I believe the culture in prisons and jails would change rapidly. You see, the “he said/she said argument” does not apply because even if a detained person is “seduced” rather than beaten into submission it IS STILL RAPE because they CAN NOT CONSENT! If rape kits were routinely taken and the crimes investigated and prosecuted this would stop pretty darn quick because of DNA. Now if you want to tell me that the “bad people” made the “good people” behave badly I am going to tell you bluntly. There is plenty of temptation for EVERYONE who has to spend all or part of their day in that environment, but the systemic lack of enforcement of rules related to sexual behavior leads consistently to the use of sexual assault and sexual misconduct as a tool for bullies where there is no equity of power. Women who WORK in detention facilities are at special risk of sexual assault and harassment FROM CO-WORKERS, because the culture discounts both women in general and sexual assault of both men and women.
A Chaplain I am honored to call friend was horrified when transferred from a men’s to a women’s prison. The percentage of women who had been sexually assaulted, often as children by resident family members IS horrifying and these women, themselves victims of violent crime, are further legally assaulted because of the assumptions made by the legal system.
I was interested to read that early in 2020 the Sheriff of St. Petersburg, Florida was given a 3/4-million dollar grant to develop an app that makes reporting suspected human-trafficking easier.* I was impressed until I read that the same office had done a “sting” where they “found” two persons deemed “trafficked” because a social worker made that determination and the others who showed up were thrown in jail on prior warrants, soliciting charges (if you order sex on the web how is that NOT entrapment?) If you think it is surprising that women, girls and boys who have been sold for sex have trust issues with a strange social worker in the middle of a sting where people are being tossed in the clink, I can only pray you will read more, learn more and pray for these precious children of God.
I want to be clear, folks: if two willing people have sex, that is their business. But the minute money is involved it is no longer a private matter because money constitutes the purchasing of a human. No matter how poor, depressed, drug-dependent, mentally ill, physically ill, intimidated by their “boss” or anything else that contributes to the vulnerability of the person being bought, THIS IS ALWAYS WRONG.
*This is a good thing with the Super Bowl being played there this weekend because human trafficking is a long-standing super bowl issue. If you happen to be in the Tampa area, you can download the app at Goggle Play, search for “Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force”.