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Schatz, Cornyn Introduce New Bipartisan Bill To Establish Confidential Hotline For Incarcerated Survivors Of Sexual Abuse

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced new bipartisan legislation to establish a national hotline offering free confidential support services to incarcerated survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. Many correctional facilities are reluctant to fund support programs or collaborate with outside partners willing to offer these services. A confidential national hotline would offer survivors in prisons across the country access to important emotional support services.

“Sexual abuse can take a real toll on survivors' mental and emotional health, but counseling can help people recover from this trauma,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will make sure these support services for incarcerated survivors are free, confidential, and a phone call away.”

“Victims of sexual abuse in our nation’s prisons must be given the same resources as anyone else who experiences this trauma,” said Senator Cornyn. “This bill would create a national hotline for prisoners to receive counseling while also requiring hotline centers to provide education and training to correctional institutions.”

Incarcerated people are increasingly isolated from sexual abuse service providers. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult for survivors to access support services, as many prisons are prohibiting visitors in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. While survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and child abuse are able to access hotlines while under stay-at-home orders, incarcerated survivors are seeing their already minimal access to support services being further curtailed.

In February, Schatz and Cornyn, leading voices on preventing sexual assault in prisons, wrote a letter to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to express their concern that rampant sexual abuse in federal correctional facilities has gone largely underreported. Incarcerated people are far less likely to report incidents of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape through official channels due to fear of retaliation by other inmates, correctional officers, or prison staff. This means that confidential resources are essential to ensuring that incarcerated survivors have access to emotional support services.

If passed, Schatz and Cornyn’s Sexual Abuse Services in Detention Act (S. 3723) would create a grant program to establish the National Hotline for Sexual Abuse Services in Detention that would:

  • Provide sexual abuse and rape crisis counseling services to incarcerated individuals who have been victims of sexual abuse or sexual harassment during incarceration or prior to incarceration in both federal and state prisons;
  • Establish and operate a telephone hotline to receive calls from incarcerated individuals free of charge;
  • Receive and respond to emails and postal mail from incarcerated people regarding sexual abuse allegations;
  • Facilitate other means of secure communication to connect victims with service providers; and
  • Provide education and training to corrections agencies and prisons on providing sexual abuse services.

The bill has been endorsed by Just Detention International and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.