Crisis Center trains staff at jail to help sexual assault victims

April 03, 2015

Corrections officers and administrators were trained this week on how to assist sexual assault victims incarcerated at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail. Della McGuire, the sexual assault program coordinator at the Crisis Center in Bristol, Virginia, said she spent Wednesday and Friday working with staff at the jail facility in Abingdon. “The goal is to make sure sexual assault incidents are handled properly at the jail,” McGuire said.

The training program stems from the Prison Rape Elimination Act [PREA] of 2003, which is similar to sexual assault reporting laws at colleges. The act aims to curb prison rape through a “zero-tolerance” policy, as well as through research and data collections.

“The act requires them to reach out to non-institution resources,” McGuire said, noting that the Crisis Center is one such resource for victims.

Sexual assault is considered an underreported crime, and in jail, the likelihood of a prisoner reporting a sexual assault decreases, McGuire said. And institutions, including schools and jails, are more likely to attract predators.

She added, “The dynamics of institutional living make people more at risk of sexual assaults.”

During training, McGuire spoke to staff about protecting sexual assault victims in prison, providing them with proper resources and assisting them during prosecution.

The program’s goal is to also make sure the victims are not punished for reporting sexual assaults and provide safety against retaliation.

According to Just Detention International, which provides resources for jail training, every year, more than 200,000 people detained in America’s jails become the victim of sexual assault. And most survivors are sexually abused again and again.

“For its victims, prisoner rape is a nightmare that does not end,” JDI said in a report.

McGuire has been an advocate for assault victims in the jail system, assisting them through prosecutions.

“They really have an outstanding team,” she said regarding the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail. “It’s [sexual assault] not as prevalent here as it may be in other facilities.”

Staff members, she said, appear to be most concerned about victims being blamed for the assaults. “The staff is genuinely concerned for the safety of the prisoners,” McGuire said. “They may be in jail, but they’re people.”

She plans to take the training program to the jail authority’s other facilities in Duffield, Haysi and Tazewell.