Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Sentence No One Deserves

The women were reluctant to talk when I finally tracked them down. Most just wanted to forget what had happened at SeaTac federal detention center. A few decided that speaking up was worth the risk.
 "I went through so much suffering, so much humiliation," one young woman from a Mexican border town told me in an interview for a Seattle P-I investigative story. She was just 19 when the guard sexually assaulted her.  "They have the power to do anything to us."
The guards who I wrote about preyed on those who were most vulnerable: younger, illegal immigrants and non-U.S. citizens facing deportation. Those who had no hope of fighting back.
They knew what everyone on the inside knows: that when it's prisoner vs. guard, the guard always wins. That less than 10 percent of sexual abuse complaints ever get prosecuted.
Three months ago, a federal panel that spent six years investigating sexual assault in our nation's federal, state and county lock-ups released a report about just how widespread this problem is. They toured the country and listened to story after story. Their report called for better oversight and lots of changes, from more careful screening of guards to reforming the law to give victims more legal options.
I wanted to call up every woman who poured her heart out to me two years ago and tell them the news. I wanted to write about it. But by then my newspaper had been closed and I was too busy looking for work. I promised myself I'd come back to the story when my life settled down.
Attorney General Eric Holder has a year to decide whether to turn the panel's recommendations into regulations that prisons and jails will have to follow -- or risk losing federal funding. Justice demands no less.
(Photo: by erokCom)

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