In a report released today, Human Rights Watch documents how women inmates who have been raped by guards in Michigan prisons are suffering retaliation from their attackers.

In Michigan, a woman risks being sexually assaulted if she’s imprisoned, and being terrorized by guards if she dares report the assault," said Regan Ralph, executive director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "If this were happening in another country, no one would hesitate to call it what it is: a terrible abuse of human rights."

Thirty-one women have filed a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections, charging that prison management has failed to prevent sexual assault and abuse by guards and staff. The suit, which is being jointly prosecuted by private lawyers and the U.S. Department of Justice, also charges that women face retaliation when they report rape: everything from verbal abuse, to being placed in solitary confinement, to being raped again. One plaintiff was placed on a permanent visitation ban and has not seen her daughter for nearly two years. She is now on a hunger strike to protest her treatment.

Human Rights Watch calls on the State of Michigan to take immediate action to end the abuse and to protect women who report sexual abuse. Human Rights Watch further calls for the enactment of federal legislation which would compel states to criminalize custodial sexual misconduct; provide a secure means for women to report rape and sexual assaults; and to prohibit corrections departments from hiring guards who have engaged in sexual abuse of women inmates.

"The Michigan Department of Corrections has refused to take the relatively simple measures necessary to protect these women," explained Ralph. "For example, one of the defendants in the suit is in charge of a housing unit where several of the plaintiffs live. He makes their lives unbearable."

The Human Rights Watch report provides background on the sexual abuse of women inmates in Michigan state prisons, and focuses on the case histories of five women who are plaintiffs in the class action suit and have been subjected to intense retaliatory behavior by corrections guards and staff. Additionally, the report contains extensive recommendations for both Michigan and the federal government aimed at ending the abuse and protecting women who report abuse from retaliation