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CCR recently filed an amicus brief in support of a class of women prisoners seeking relief from sexual assault in prison. Amador v. Superintendents of the Department of Correctional Services, brought by The Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project in 2003, charges New York State with failing to protect woman prisoners from sexual assault and harassment by male prison employees. Woman prisoners are raped, forced to display their bodies and threatened and harassed by prison employees. The lawsuit alleges that Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) officials turn a blind eye to the abuse and coerced prostitution of prisoners under their care, refusing to take action against the officers involved. Under DOC’s policies, officers maintain assignments even after women prisoners have lodged repeated complaints of sexual misconduct by the officer.
CCR has joined with Human Rights Watch, the National Organization for Women-New York State, New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, New York Coalition Against Domestic Violence, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Vera House, Inc. to urge the District Court Judge to consider international law and social science data in considering whether the plaintiffs adequately utilized the prison administrative grievance system, such that their claims can now be brought in federal court.
In arguing in support of the female prisoners, CCR and other amici relied on social science research documenting the prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder in survivors of sexual assault, and the resultant difficulty assault survivors experience in advocating on their own behalf. Amici also drew the Court's attention to customary international law standards requiring that survivors of sexual assault have access to just and adequate remedies to address these serious human rights violations.
"Trauma and fear of retaliation mean that women in prison have an extremely hard time coming forward to report sexual abuse" explained CCR Human Rights Fellow Kelly McAnnany. "International laws and norms provide important standards on the treatment of survivors of sexual assault in a custodial setting, and state that survivors should have meaningful access to redress these human rights violations in the Courts."
The Legal Aid lawyers handling the case are Dori A. Lewis and Lisa Freeman. Joining in the amicus effort are CCR attorneys Jennie Green and Rachel Meeropol.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.