A former prison guard at the Central California Women’s Facility is in jail after being charged with 96 counts of sexual abuse, including rape. But a report from the Guardian shows that the guard, Gregory Rodriguez, faced accusations from women for years without being terminated, while the women themselves often suffered consequences for coming forward. Prison investigators say that Rodriguez had a pattern of behavior with women in custody, first verbally harassing them, then isolating them in areas of the prison without cameras, and then asking for sex in exchange for items. If they didn’t comply he threatened to write them up, or make prison difficult for them. ““No one would believe [you],” one woman said he told her. Women were afraid to speak out. At least one woman, whose alleged assault was investigated in 2014, was sent to solitary confinement after speaking with investigators, and then transferred to another prison farther from her family. The case was ultimately closed due to “insufficient evidence.” Meanwhile, other guards who appeared suspicious of Rodriguez failed to intervene, and some facilitated his abuse, women told the Guardian. Attorneys allege the prison leadership “failed to protect” women from “a serial rapist.”
Rodriguez’s case illustrates a wide-spread problem in prisons and jails across the country. More than 3,500 women are sexually abused by correctional staff in jails and prisons each year, according to government surveys, and women in at least two-thirds of federal prisons have been abused by staff. But abusers rarely face prosecution: only three other guards at California womens prisons have been charged since 2014. Investigators have indicated that the case against Rodriguez is corroborated by video evidence. The district attorney prosecuting the case, Sally Moreno of Madera county, acknowledged that there were probably others besides Rodriguez who abused women in the prison but had not faced charges. “Anytime you’ve got women in this super-compromised position where there are these formal and informal power structures, they’re going to be taken advantage of,” she said.