Free from blaming myself for the abuse.
Free to make peace with old wounds.
"To deal with with the sexual abuse at the hands of her father, Keisha self-medicated with drugs that 'made her forget.'"
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, bringing light to a painful and life-altering issue that many women in prison have faced.
“The transition from a life of abuse to a life of crime isn’t uncommon.”
The number of women in prison between 1980 – 2016 rose 700% and during that time, increased at a rate 50% higher than men. Even as overall incarceration rates in the United States have dropped since 2015, they have fallen more slowly for women than for any other demographic group. This influx in female imprisonment has been correlated by some researchers to a phenomenon called the sexual abuse to prison pipeline, which theorizes that some women react to their abuse with illegal activities in the absence of receiving support, thus leading to incarceration.
A July 2018 study co-authored by Human Rights Project for Girls, the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law Center, and the Ms. Foundation for Women, found that a majority of the juvenile justice – involved girls in their study who had experienced sexual abuse were routed into the criminal justice system because of their victimization.
Keisha estimates she was arrested more than 15 times but has lost count. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to incarcerate her. What if that money had been used instead to provide Keisha and other women like her with adequate resources to deal with her trauma? Keisha believes that had she had the help she needed to deal with her trauma early on, her whole life would have been rewritten. But now, she has made peace with her old wounds; after decades of blaming herself for the abuse, Keisha knows it was not her fault.
At Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women, we hear similar stories every day of women who find ways to cope with the effects of their abuse by using drugs, then down the slippery slope of selling them in order to support their addiction, leading to violence, prostitution, or some combination of the three. What may surprise people is that many of them credit prison with saving their lives.
After programming and therapy, Keisha is no longer using drugs. She’s in school studying computer skills, and she is thriving. “I value my freedom much more than jail,” she says. “After therapy, I learned that the pain and consequences of drugs outweighed the pleasure. I learned how to manage my feelings. I did not learn it overnight, but what is important is that I learned it. I just wish it had happened sooner.”
Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women along with our many partners offer holistic coordinated care that can assist women trapped in the cycle of trauma and abuse in breaking the cycle. Chaplaincy services; evidence-based classes such as Forgive for Good, Facing Ourselves and 12 Step Life Recovery; and mentoring help women begin the painstaking journey of healing. But the work takes time and so much more is needed.
Please click on the link below to learn more about the issue and to read the full story of Keisha, who became one of those survivors and eventually was able to heal.
 How One Woman's Sexual Abuse Resulted in Years Behind Bars, by Yosha Gunasekera
May 11, 2018, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a20651072/sex-abuse-to-prison-pipeline/
 Incarcerated Women and Girls Fact Sheet, The Sentencing Project, May 10, 2018.
 Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform by Swavola, Riley, and Subramanian, New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2016.
 Gunasekera, Ibid.