Queens councilwoman calls for increased penalties on sexual assaults, harassment against correction officers

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Councilwoman Adrienne Adams and COBA leadership demand increased penalties on sexual assaults and harassment against correction officers. (Photo courtesy of Adams’ office)

As the humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island has claimed the lives of 14 incarcerated individuals already this year, Councilwoman Adrienne Adams joined the executive board of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, including its president Benny Boscio, on Oct. 25 to announce new legislative actions to deter the ongoing sexual assaults and harassment perpetrated against correction officers inside New York City jails.

Adams, the chair of the Committee of Public Safety, plans to introduce a resolution calling on the governor and state Legislature to amend the New York State Penal Law to make forcible touching of a correction officer a felony instead of a Class A misdemeanor.

The resolution will also call on the state to amend the penal code to make aggravated sexual harassment against a correction officer, including verbal abuse and lewd gestures, a Class A misdemeanor. Currently, it is only a civil infraction.

Adams also plans to introduce legislation requiring the Department of Correction to track and publicly report data on sexual assaults that occur inside city jails. The bill will require the DOC to be more transparent and accountable for sexual assaults that take place under their supervision.

“Correction officers have been abused, violated and completely traumatized by vicious acts of sexual assault and harassment, often without consequences, on Rikers Island. Their stories of facing physical and emotional violence on the job are deeply disturbing, disgraceful and wholly unacceptable,” Adams said. “After hearing from the courageous women about what they have endured for years, I knew I had to shine a light on the issue, which has not received enough attention.”

Adams has a deep understanding of the challenges faced by correction officers in the city. Her mother was a longtime correction officer, who retired as a captain in the department.

“My proposed legislation will discourage detainees from committing these heinous acts against correction officers, and finally force the Department of Correction to reveal the extent to which sexual assaults occur under their watch,” Adams said. “I’m grateful to the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, especially our women leaders, for bravely sharing their accounts of working under these wretched conditions and standing up for their colleagues. We can never tolerate or accept sexual abuse and harassment, whether it’s in our communities or in our city’s jails.”

Photo courtesy of Adams’ office

During the press briefing at the entrance to Rikers Island, women leaders on the COBA Executive Board detailed the hostile and toxic environment that correction officers are forced to work in, as well as the physical and emotional abuse they endure on a daily basis. They also shared horror stories of female correction officers who were groped, molested and even had fluids thrown at them.

They expressed support for the impending legislation and called for more resources, services and care for the correction officers who are survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

“For too long, sexual predators who commit sexual crimes and engage in sexual harassment against our correction officers, half of whom are female, have faced little consequences for their abhorrent behavior,” Boscio said. “Forcible touching, attempted rape, indecent exposure and aggravated sexual harassment would never be tolerated in any work environment in our city, yet these heinous crimes are tolerated every day in the city’s jails.”

According to COBA, since Jan. 1, 24 DOC employees have been sexually assaulted by detainees. Of those 24 employees, 17 were correction officers, including 16 women and one man; one was correction captain; and the other six were civilian employees. Out of the 24 cases, only 13 perpetrators were re-arrested, and just six resulted in an indictment.

“It is time for all of our elected officials who used their advocacy during the ‘Me Too’ movement to ensure that same advocacy for our ‘Us Too’ movement to change our laws in New York to ensure sexual predators in our jails face serious criminal charges and are held fully accountable for their crimes,” Boscio said. “On behalf of all our correction officers who continue to work in an incredibly hostile environment, I thank Council member Adams for sharing our concerns and taking legislative action to ensure sexual predators in our jails are brought to justice.”