A study released by the Human Rights Watch has found that women in state prisons in the U.S. face constant sexual assault and harassment. Since 1980, the number of women incarcerated has increased by over 400 percent, twice the rate of men. Although there are over 64,701 women inmates, only 18 percent of uniformed corrections officers are women. Male officers have been found to abuse their power by assaulting the female inmates. Dorothy Q. Thomas, director of the Human Rights women’s project authored the report and stated, “Male officers are sexually abusing female prisoners while the state and federal governments look the other way.”
Pressed by correctional associations for clear facts and documentation of the problem’s scope, Thomas replied that, “It is impossible to give an accurate estimate because the internal systems for investigating sexual misconduct by officers don’t exist.” The study did cite numerous allegations brought forth by female inmates, including women in the District of Columbia who filed a lawsuit in 1993 alleging sexual abuse and harassment. One inmate charged that a male correctional officer forced her to engage in oral sex and another inmate claimed she had been raped. In 1994, a District court ruled that the treatment violated the inmates right against cruel and unusual punishment, but the case was later overturned on technicalities.