PREA

When you get back from a vacation, it is common to have a pile of paperwork, or at least some emails, to respond to.  Maybe something to sign or approve, something to read over, or a form to fill out.  For me, the first thing I found in my pile was a form to sign.

Its purpose was to swear that I would not use my hands, fingers, other body parts, or any objects, to touch or penetrate the groin area, genitalia, or anus of any prisoner, in order to abuse that person, or to arouse or gratify my sexual desire.  Of course I signed and submitted it, as part of my annual paperwork to permit me to work inside jails and prisons.  It is based on PREA – the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

My first gut reaction was geez, what a tough job I have!  This is ridiculous!  Other people come home from vacation and see something like – I don’t know, lab reports, or coding language.  While I have to come home and read about rape and sexual abuse.  It’s just f#*king depressing!  I wonder what the rate of alcoholism and drug use is among court interpreters.  I wonder if more of us are depressed and anxious than “normal” people.  I’ll bet our life expectancy is lower.  We have it so tough!

Before I had time to whine about this issue, I started to rethink it.

It is actually pretty great that there is something explicit to tell people like me who work around vulnerable adults, or children for that matter, that we are NOT allowed to grope them, molest them, or touch them to abuse them, or for our own gratification.  People like me, who have privilege and are entitled, for example, to enter the jail and sit on the “right” side of the glass, or be with a prisoner in a small private room, should be reminded that we have to respect the person and personhood of the people we work with.  Especially those who are particularly vulnerable.  But really everyone.

As harsh as it was to face that reminder of some of the less savory aspects of my job, like going into jails, and dealing with society’s violence and injustices, it is a good thing.  It is an improvement over pretending nothing is going on, and having the silence that acts like a cover and permission for abuse.

Maybe more workplaces – maybe all workplaces, schools and churches – should have forms like this that people have to sign.  Maybe we need more reminders and not less, as uncomfortable as it is.  As depressing as it is.  As sad as it makes me to think about it.

Of course, I would like to live in a world where all this could be taken for granted, and no one would need to be explicitly told what their common sense of decency should tell them.  Where everyone would understand that we treat each other with respect, and honor each other’s boundaries and physical integrity.  Where we wouldn’t need forms and reminder signs: Please don’t beat your family members!  No pussy grabbing.  No child molestation allowed.  No sexual harassment permitted.  Commercial sexual exploitation of minors strictly forbidden.  Hands are for helping, not hurting!

But until that day comes, as depressing as it is to read those kinds of forms, and remember why we need them, we do need them, and it is better than the silence of complicity.  So shame on me for feeling like argh, I don’t want to think about this!  I want lawn daisies and sunshine!  Because it is incumbent upon me to acknowledge that there are a lot more people – besides me – who would love to have the luxury of not having to think about, not having to live through, this kind of abuse.  But they don’t have that luxury.  So any small act I can take, such as signing the PREA form, is no more than my duty.