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Congressional
commission to hear from LGBT victims of prison rape

Congressional
commission to hear from LGBT victims of prison rape

Prisoners

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission was created by Congress to hold hearings and prepare a report on the problem of rape in prison and propose national standards governing the prevention, investigation, and punishment of such abuse. The commission is holding its second hearing Friday in San Francisco, and among those testifying will be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender victims of prison rape.

As a young bisexual inmate weighing just 123 pounds, Kendell Spruce said he made a perfect target for sexual predators. Nine months after landing in an Arkansas prison for violating parole for check forgery, he claimed he had been raped by 27 fellow prisoners, including a cell mate who infected him with HIV. Spruce, now 42, planned to tell his story Friday to a congressional commission studying prison rape and sexual abuse. Other witnesses will include juveniles attacked in adult prisons and transgender men and women. Arkansas Correction Department spokeswoman Dina Tyler said Spruce's allegations are untrue. Tyler said Spruce sued the state prison system in federal court and lost. She said his allegations were "proved to be false." "If there was sexual activity with Kendell Spruce, he either initiated it or was a willing participant," Tyler said. "These are stories he made up. He is not telling the truth." The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission was created by Congress and given a year to prepare a report on the problem and propose national standards governing the prevention, investigation, and punishment of abuse. The commission's first hearing was held in June in Washington and offered an overall look at the problem, according to Judge Reggie Walton, chairman of the bipartisan nine-member committee. "One of the things that I have been most shocked by is, we don't know what the extent of the problem is," he said by phone prior to Friday's meeting in San Francisco. "I believe in tough punishment, but I firmly believe when we incarcerate people we're obligated to make sure they're treated humanely." The San Francisco hearing will focus on protecting vulnerable inmates--young people; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender inmates; and the mentally ill. Among those scheduled to speak at the daylong hearing are Department of Justice officials, state and local lawmakers, and survivors of abuse. Spruce, who has suffered from full-blown AIDS since 2002, was forced to quit working and now lives in Flint, Mich., to be closer to his family. "Everybody needs to know what happened to me," he said of his alleged experiences more than a dozen years ago. "I don't want it to happen to more people." One of the biggest hurdles advocates have faced is public indifference and an unwillingness to take the problem seriously. "Nobody would tell a joke on late-night television about a woman getting raped in a back alley," said Lovisa Stannow, acting executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, a nonprofit called upon by the commission to provide survivor testimony. "Negative stereotypes about prisoners and this perception that it's not something that needs to be taken seriously is a major barrier to ending this kind of violence." (Kim Curtis, AP)

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