Sexual Abuse in Custody: A Case Law Study

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National PREA Resource Center (PRC); National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD); U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA); NIC/WCL Project on Addressing Prison Rape


Under certain circumstances correctional officers and their supervisors can be subject to civil liability for sexual abuse of inmates and detainees under their care. Liability for sexual abuse can attach whether the abuse was perpetrated by a correctional officer, facility employee or volunteer, or by a fellow inmate or detainee. This document provides an overview of sexual abuse cases in both state and federal courts, focusing on what types of conduct most often result in individual and supervisory liability. It does not address other issues that may arise in sexual abuse litigation, such as exhaustion requirements under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, qualified immunity for officers acting in an official capacity, or Eleventh Amendment immunity for states and their employees. Facilities should be mindful that these issues can complicate sexual abuse litigation.