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'Torture, plain and simple': Amnesty International reports abuse in women's prisons


March 4, 1999
Web posted at: 7:55 p.m. EST (0055 GMT)

From CNN's Diane Ruggiero

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sexual abuse is "virtually a fact of life" for female prisoners in the United States, many of whom are sold by prison guards as sex slaves to male inmates, according to a new report from Amnesty International..

The report released Thursday found sexual abuse of female inmates is rampant but said many cases go unreported for fear of retaliation.

Amnesty reported an undetermined number of cases of prison guards who grope women during daily searches and who rape women.

The report also found some prison guards sell female prisoners as sex slaves to male inmates.

The report also charged prisons with providing inadequate medical care for incarcerated women, citing several cases in which leg shackles were attached to women while they were giving birth.

"The sexual abuse of women inmates is torture, plain and simple. Shackling and medical neglect of women in prison constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," said William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Since 1985, the women's prison population has tripled. But according to Amnesty, prison facilities have not kept pace by hiring women to guard the female population.

Seventy percent of all those who are guarding women in the United States are men; by comparison, 90 percent of such guards in Canada are women.

Twelve states do not have legislation protecting female inmates from sexual abuse, something Amnesty is lobbying to change.

The organization is also asking federal and state authorities to prohibit the use of arm or leg restraints on pregnant women; it is also asking prison authorities to guarantee quality health care to female inmates.

According to singer and human rights activist Michelle Phillips, the report "convincingly details the abuse of female prisoners and powerfully documents the erosion of their human rights."

"When a woman is incarcerated, she's expected to give up her freedom, but not her soul," Phillips said.

U.S. accused of human rights abuses in prisons
October 5, 1998

Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch: Prison Conditions and the Treatment of Prisoners
  • Human Rights Watch: Prison Conditions in the United States
Prison Issues Desk: Women Prisoners
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