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May 17, 2012

New Obama Initiative for LGBT Prisoners

Today, the Obama administration announced new rules designed to launch a major offensive to help stop the epidemic of sexual violence in the nation’s prison system and youth detention system. The rules, released by the Department of Justice (DOJ), aim to “prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities.” The new rules—and a new report from DOJ that was also released today—recognize that sexual violence is an especially urgent issue for LGBT youth in juvenile justice facilities and LGBT adults in prisons and jails. In response to this alarming reality, the rules include a mandate to “incorporate [the] unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols”—in addition to a number of other provisions to protect LGBT people.

DOJ is enacting the rules pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was passed in 2003. The new rules provide much-needed guidance to combat sexual violence in prisons and youth detention centers, particularly for the LGBT population. The new rules are accompanied by a presidential memorandum directing all agencies with Federal confinement facilities that are not already subject to this rule to propose their own rules within 120 days.

This is the second time this week that the Obama administration has taken a strong public stand against sexual violence against the LGBT community. Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970, a so-called version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), that guts important VAWA protections found in the Senate version of the bill, including provisions that would protect high-risk victims including Native Americans, immigrants, and victims in LGBT communities. In response, the president issued a threat to veto the watered down version of the bill.

Read a story about the rule.

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