This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

By Officer Bimblebury Posted by Vanguard Administrator August 27, 2023

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California Legislative Women’s Caucus here hosted a briefing last week focused “on sexual harm perpetuated by Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) staff,” sponsored by survivors and advocates from California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), Survived & Punished, UnCommon Law, Prison Law Office, and Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition (SWFC).

The groups coordinated the testimony at the hearing, and said in a statement they have formed Solidarity Committee for Incarcerated Survivors (SCIS) to investigate the “horrific environment of fear and coercion that breeds abuse and assault in prisons…while working to secure protections and resources for currently and formerly incarcerated survivors.”

The hearing, according to SCIS, follows charges recently brought against former corrections officer Gregory Rodriguez, who the coalition charges “has been connected to the abuse of more than one percent of all the incarcerated people at CCWF.”

The coalition said its goal is to “shed light on the systemic and unchecked nature of such pervasive abuse,” and encourage California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to implement policy changes “crucial for investigating abuse and protecting survivors.”

“We must address the abusive and retaliatory culture inherent to the prison system that allows someone – and anyone – like Rodriguez to use their position of power to coerce, intimidate, and abuse vulnerable incarcerated people,” said Amika Mota, Executive Director of Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition.

Mota added, “The entire system must be overhauled to prioritize the safety of victims and witnesses and create survivor-led programs to support recovery.”

Advocates claim incarcerated survivors and witnesses of sexual assault by prison staff experience retaliation when they speak up, and “many are silenced through threats to remove ‘privileges,’ such as visitation or phone calls, physical violence, and intense surveillance.”

They also cited “the CDCR protocol for investigating sexual abuse, which mandates strip-searching the victim and isolating them in solitary confinement.”

“This response, and the lack of safe reporting, effectively institutionalizes sexual violence and compounds the traumatic violence that survivors have experienced,” argues Katie Dixon, Campaign and Policy Organizer with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

In a 2017 pleading, the #MeTooBehindBars lawsuit, advocates said they tried to “hold CDCR accountable for violent assaults by CCWF correctional officers who used abusive physical force and verbal assaults, including homophobic and transphobic threats against queer and gender non-conforming people.”

The SCIS maintains there is still no meaningful change, and are asking for “investigations into abuse at the hands of staff conducted by an independent group, removal of personnel accused of abuse from the prisons they work in during investigations, expedited release of survivors and access for survivors to comprehensive and self-determined healthcare and victim services that are also independent of CDCR, including access to lines of communication that are not surveilled.”

“I want to forget, but my body betrays me as a vehicle carrying these memories. I want to forget the time I was taking a shower in county jail only to turn and find an officer watching me. I want to forget being sexually assaulted by that same officer while I was handcuffed in shackles being escorted to the yard,” said Latasha Brown in the testimony.

Brown added, “I want to forget having a flashlight shone on me until I flashed my genitals. I want to forget what his hands feel like as they grope me. But my body betrays me as a vehicle carrying these memories. I want to forget the things that have happened to me at CCWF by multiple officers, including one whose name everybody in this room knows. Since I am completely at the mercy of my captors, I have a feeling of perpetual uneasiness as I know the lengths they will go to cover up their misconduct.”