Are rape crisis centers or other victim service providers appropriate entities to serve as external reporting entities, pursuant to PREA Standard 51(b)?
Generally, no. PREA Standard 51(b) provides that: “The agency shall also provide at least one way for inmates to report abuse or harassment to a public or private entity or office that is not part of the agency, and that is able to receive and immediately forward inmate reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment to agency officials, allowing the inmate to remain anonymous upon request.” The purpose of this provision is to provide inmates with a way to report sexual abuse or harassment to someone outside of the corrections agency. The focus of this standard is on reporting of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, not on providing support to victims.
Rape crisis centers and other victim service providers have a mission of providing support and services to victims. Under federal law, if such centers and providers are funded at least in part, either as a direct recipient or as a subrecipient, by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, 34 U.S.C. 12291(b)(2)), the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA, 42 U.S.C. 10406(c)(5)), or the Victims of Crime Act Victim Assistance Program (VOCA Assistance, 28 C.F.R. § 94.115), they are required to keep identifying information about victims confidential. The only limited exceptions to this requirement are when the victim signs an informed, written, time-limited release, or when release is required by a legal (court or statutory) mandate. This requirement to keep confidential identifying information about victims conflicts with the requirement of PREA Standard 51(b) to be able to immediately forward reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment to agency officials.
Although the federal funding/grant restrictions identified above do allow for anonymous reporting, the restrictions do not permit the provider to immediately forward all information about an allegation (including the inmate’s identity) to agency officials in cases where the inmate does not request anonymity. In order to immediately forward all information about an allegation (including the inmate’s identity) to agency officials in cases where the inmate does not request anonymity, the provider would need an immediate written release, which is unlikely to be feasible in the confinement facility context.
Most rape crisis centers and victim service providers receive federal FVPSA, VAWA, and/or VOCA Assistance funds. Many victim services providers may not realize that they are receiving these federal funding streams, because these programs are funded by formula grants that are awarded to local programs by states or territories. Even for those rape crisis centers and victim service providers that are not federally funded, there are often state confidentiality or privilege laws that apply. For more information about the VAWA confidentiality provision, see https://www.justice.gov/ovw/page/file/1006896/download.
It is very unlikely that a rape crisis center or other victim service provider will be able to carry out the requirements of PREA Standard 51(b) without violating state or federal laws.