Women in prison need better protection against abuse: report

Inmates at women’s prisons are insufficiently protected against (sexual) abuse and measures must be taken to improve their situation, sexual violence czar Mariëtte Hamer said in a report out on Thursday.

Hamer, who initiated an investigation following a damning report by the justice department about sexual abuse by wardens at the Nieuwersluis penitentiary, said the imbalance of power in prisons, where prisoners are dependent on wardens, is increasing the risk of sexual abuse of often vulnerable women.

Hamer emphasised that any sexual contact between inmates and wardens is punishable by law. “It is immaterial if an inmate agreed to it or not,” Hamer said.

The report’s publication coincides with claims in the Telegraaf that three prison warders at one of the four women’s prisons in the Netherlands are facing legal action for sexual abuse and rape. The public prosecution department later confirmed the reports.


Hamer said inmates must be able to report abuse without the knowledge of staff and complaints must be processed by an independent body. She acknowledged that  this can be a difficult process because of a lack of trust and information, both of which should be tackled, she said.

Prison monitoring bodies must also be more knowledgeable about the signs of sexual abuse.

Frequent one-on-one contacts between staff and inmates also encourage abuse, Hamer found. Accountability can be increased by having more than one person present, she said.

She also recommended prisoners should not depend entirely on random decisions about privileges, which may include longer phone calls. This could be done by limiting wardens’ discretionary powers and making sure the rules are respected so inmates know what to expect.

“Inmates told me that wardens joked about a “one-way ticket to iso” or the isolation cell. They said that kind of talk had a great impact on them because of the power of the wardens,” Hamer said in her report.

Staff too are subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse from inmates, Hamer said. “Their reaction must always be in line with the rules. Retaliation or agreeing to enter into sexual acts is forbidden,” she said.

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