By Josh Grabenstein , for CNN
The number of sexual assaults reported by Rikers Island correction officers has jumped more than 50% since 2011 — a rate more than double that of other major U.S. cities.
In 2013, the latest year for which data is available, there were 836 sexual assaults on staff. That’s more than triple the number in 2007, when the data was first kept.
In recent weeks, several high-profile inmates have claimed they were sexually abused or sexually harassed by inmates — both correctional officers and other prison staff.
The office of the City Comptroller, Scott Stringer, has opened an investigation into the allegations and has created a sexual misconduct hotline for survivors and the media.
The increase in the number of sexual assaults has caused some Department of Correction workers to question the lack of punishment against the perpetrators.
In February, CNN reported that at least 16 correctional officers were accused of sexual misconduct over several years — as well as the alleged rape of an inmate — but only three had been suspended.
Correction officials have blamed turnover for rising crime rates and the difficulty of tracking the assaults and wrongdoing within the jail system. But those who work at Rikers believe staff turnover is more than just a casualty of fiscal constraints.
‘Your guys are taking it far too far’
“We don’t want to tell [victims] to keep quiet. You have to say to them, ‘Your guys are taking it far too far,” says Rashaad Fairley, who manages a group of officers at Rikers.
She is frustrated that she has to explain to female officers the dangers that they face.
“There are officers that’ll blatantly proposition them. They want to go to sleep with them. There are men that will do what they want to do to another man because that’s what they do.”
Violence is a constant danger at Rikers Island, which houses about 10,000 inmates and has been the focus of numerous investigations for jailhouse beatings and the misuse of inmates in private gated and windowless neighborhoods on the perimeter of the island.
A de Blasio administration press release last month called the number of assaults an “epidemic,” though critics say the numbers are easily inflated by underreporting of violent inmate behavior.