N.J. Likely Under-Reports Sexual Abuse Behind Bars, Experts Say

Sexual abuse investigations are rare in New Jersey’s prisons, and convictions are even less common, according to an NJ Advance Media review of state and federal data. But experts warn those statistics don’t paint a true picture of what’s happening behind bars. One of the biggest impediments to addressing the problem is that prison sex abuse investigations are among the toughest cases they handle, according to current and former prosecutors. “The reality is we have not done a great job in the criminal justice system in investigating and prosecuting these cases,” said Jennifer Gentile Long, the CEO of AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women. Long said prison culture can make sexual assault investigations in those facilities even more difficult than such investigations on the outside. For one, sexual abuse is rarely reported at all, whether it happens in prison or in somebody’s home. What’s more, she said, prisoners often experience intimidation, either by prison staff or other inmates, and are used to not being believed because of their criminal histories. “When you’re literally in a space controlled by people close to your assailant and there have been other people who have complained and their reports were not taken seriously or they were retaliated against, victims can be silenced,” Long said.