Sexual abuse of female inmates

Recent cases show that inmates need advocacy

Although the phrase “abuse of power comes as no surprise” is a bit cliché in terms of political and social happenings, it is spot-on when one thinks about the way certain prisons treat their inmates.

Recent cases show that inmates need advocacy

Although the phrase “abuse of power comes as no surprise” is a bit cliché in terms of political and social happenings, it is spot-on when one thinks about the way certain prisons treat their inmates.

Recently, a female inmate at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, a women’s prison located in Wilsonville, Ore., came forward to testify against one of the prison workers. The inmate, who has remained anonymous, said that Paul W. Golden, a prison landscape manager, sexually assaulted her.

While sexual assault is common among prison inmates (not to say that it is justified), it is disconcerting that someone in a position of power would use that position to scare inmates into sexual situations. What is really frightening is that this kind of behavior is very common at Coffee Creek.

Encounters like the one faced by this particular inmate have gone on for years at the Wilsonville prison. These practices are illegal, even with the consent of the inmate. Abusive workers take advantage of the thousands of blind spots across prison grounds and count on the inmates’ code against snitching.

Even worse, this particular inmate is not the first to fall victim to Golden and others like him. The Oregon Department of Corrections learned about crimes committed by Golden and three others at Coffee Creek way back in 2008. This resulted in unprecedented state settlements with 17 victims. While it is great that the victims were given settlements, it does not explain why Golden et. al. were allowed to keep their jobs. Reports of abuse have continued to surface.

So why does this happen? Does the state not care about the safety of its inmates? Last year, the state hired an independent security expert to review the prison, but the results were never shared with Coffee Creek officials. In March, the state finished signing the last agreement to settle the lawsuits involving the 17 inmates who had suffered abuse in the past without a word to the public. The settlements cost a heavy $1.2 million.

Although Paul Golden was not actually convicted of any type of abuse until 2008, prison officials have stated that they first caught wind of his misconduct back in 2006. Over 15 months, he was investigated three different times, but each time he came up clear.

According to Oregon State Police reports, two of the three women involved in those cases claimed they had been abused by Golden. One of the women testified that the sexual conduct continued after the Coffee Creek investigations took place.

Golden’s supervisors said that they saw signs something wasn’t quite right but never suspected him of sexual misconduct. Forrest Lyons, one of Golden’s supervisors, said that a corrections officer had reported seeing Golden engaging in horseplay with an inmate. Rather than ask the inmate, Lyons said he questioned Golden, who denied any accusations.

When asked why Golden was not watched more carefully, Lyons stated, “We have a big facility here and it’s—we certainly don’t have an overabundance of staff, and we typically—there was a lot of times we were very, very shorthanded in staff. We didn’t have anybody to put out there with him.” While the idea of understaffing is understandable, it does not excuse what has been going on behind closed doors.

Golden pleaded guilty to several of the charges against him, and was found guilty of more during his trial. He was convicted of 14 counts of sexual misconduct in total. He is now serving an 11-year prison term at Two Rivers Correctional Institution. While it’s great that he was punished and is now paying for what he did, it does not excuse the fact that he committed numerous sexual assaults and caused God knows how much trauma and trouble for the victims left in his wake.

While the misconduct these women faced at the hand of Golden is central, the lawyers responsible for approving or denying the allegations against Golden denied every single allegation. To justify this reasoning, the lawyers said that any harm done to the women “was a direct result of their own actions and inactions,” including “any failure to report any alleged misconduct.”

So now state lawyers are victim-blaming and acting like rape apologists? Cool.

We as a society put a lot of time and effort into fighting sexual assault and domestic violence, but where is the advocacy for these inmates? These women living within prison confines need advocacy and support just as much as other survivors of sexual assault. The women in Coffee Creek are in prison in order to pay their own individual consequences, not become the victims of sexual abuse.

If the state would reevaluate the safety concerns surrounding these cases and make it harder (or maybe, you know, impossible?) for prison workers to have the chance to commit sexual assault, it would not have to shell out big numbers for expensive settlements. More importantly, the inmates would not have to deal with the extreme emotional and psychological damage that comes with being a victim of sexual assault.

Rape-apologizing and victim-blaming needs to stop. Women (and men) are not always “asking for it,” which is one of the main counter-arguments used against survivors of sexual assault. Rather than hammering the notion of “don’t get raped” into the heads of the younger generation, how about we teach “don’t rape?” It will spread a more positive message, for sure.

As for prison inmates: As already stated, why is there no advocacy for these women? Victims of sexual assault (and this goes for everyone, of any personal identification) deserve advocacy; they should not have to worry about being punished for being honest and upfront about what has happened to them.

Coffee Creek has recently begun installing windows in the walls throughout its facility. With these new portals, vision has been maximized and many of the blind spots have been taken care of—but more needs to be done. Safety measures need to be put in place to ensure that inmates are not being abused by each other or by their supervisors. We’re all human, and though our battles might differ, we’re all in the same war. We need to treat each other with respect and make sure we are safe.