Guards at Rikers Island prison are allegedly conducting illegal and invasive strip-searches of female visitors in bathrooms.
According to In Justice Today, several women have reported being subjected to these searches, and the Jails Action Coalition compiled a report detailing the act. Apparently, the guards are escorting women into restrooms to avoid being seen by newly-installed surveillance cameras in the main search areas.
Thus far, five women have come forward and filed notices of claim with the city’s comptroller regarding the alleged abuse.
Sadly, this sexual misconduct has been an ongoing issue that have led to a series of lawsuits over the years, which is what prompted the city to place surveillance cameras in the prison’s search area in the first place. The guards, however, have clearly found a way around the system to continue carrying out their alleged inappropriate behaviors.
“I went inside the bathroom and they told me to sign a piece of paper,” said Ms. K of a February 2017 visit with her boyfriend at Rikers. (Ms. K reportedly asked to be identified by a pseudonym out of fear of retaliation from correctional officers.) “And they told me that sheet of paper is to consent for a search.”
After she signed the form, she claimed five officers entered the lavatory where a table had also been set up for the search. She was instructed to expose her breasts for a female officer as her bra was searched, and then she was asked to unbutton her pants so that her underwear could be inspected.
“If you could imagine giving someone a handshake,” Ms. K remembered, “like how you push your hand up and down? She put her hand in my pants and rammed it up against my vagina. Then she went around and pulled my underwear up and gave me a wedgie on my genitals. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was in shock.”
Adding insult to injury, after enduring the search, she was told that her boyfriend’s unit was on lockdown and she wouldn’t even be able to see him that day.
New York personal injury attorney Alan Figman represents nearly 50 different women, including Ms. K, who have made claims of sexual abuse at Rikers. The victims range in age from 18 to 70.
“These women are being completely violated,” Figman reportedly told In Justice Today, “and in some cases it’s because they’re being retaliated against for something the inmate has [allegedly] done. According to New York City corrections protocols, these strip searches are expressly forbidden. The consent forms that the women are signing are for a pat and frisk search, which means you’re not supposed to expose any part of your body.”
It is abundantly clear that these searches are not about sexual attraction or desire but rather an abuse of power to exert dominance over these women.
The victims are already in vulnerable positions as they visit their jailed loved ones who can't object to the gross mistreatment of their wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers because these same abusive guards are in charge of them.
As Ms. K aptly noted, “If you feel above a person and know that you cannot be taken down because other people will have your back, that’s what the cause is behind this. They want to convince you that they have the power and there’s nothing you can say or do to change it.”
However, explaining the root cause of this disgusting practice does not justify or excuse it. The city tried addressing the issue by installing cameras and that has not worked, so now it's time to take more aggressive action.
Officials should consider terminating and replacing the entire staff of correctional officers at the facility. Furthermore, criminal charges need to be brought against the perpetrators. Extreme consequences are likely going to be the most effective way to make a real impact and stop this once and for all.