An annual campaign is making moves to let survivors of sexual abuse in prison know that they are not alone this holiday season.
"Words of Hope" is a campaign from Just Detention International that encourages individuals to write letters of support to survivors of prison rape, which is a reality for a huge number of incarcerated queer people.
According to Just Detention International Communications Director Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, last year's campaign made a huge impact and brought in thousands of letters. The Huffington Post chatted with Lerner-Kinglake on Monday about this year's campaign.
The Huffington Post: What is the overarching goal of this campaign?
Jesse Lerner-Kinglake: The aim of "Words of Hope" is to bring a bit of comfort to incarcerated survivors of sexual abuse, so many of whom feel isolated and alone -- especially during the holidays. By sending a warm holiday greeting through "Words of Hope," our supporters can remind survivors that they are cared for and not forgotten. It may sound like a small gesture, but a holiday card that simply says, “People on the outside care about you and believe in you,” even from a stranger, can make a world of a difference.
I have a JDI file in my cell with all my holiday cards. When I feel low, I re-read them. Anytime I’m a little depressed, I reach my hand into my JDI folder and pull out a random card.
What are the realities of sexual abuse for queer people who are incarcerated?
Prisoners who are LGBT are among those who are most at risk for sexual abuse. The numbers are staggering. A 2012 government report found that roughly 40 percent of formerly incarcerated gay men reported being sexually abused by another inmate. These grim statistics are backed up by the scores of letters that JDI receives from LGBT prisoners, who describe rampant sexual abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of both other prisoners and staff. This abuse is in large part the result of a toxic culture of sexism and homophobia that thrives in prisons and jails, where anyone who doesn’t live up to exaggerated notions of masculinity is a target. One of JDI’s top priorities is to counter these harmful attitudes.
What is the impact of this campaign for the survivors of rape who receive these cards?
For many survivors, the impact is life-changing. Take Dwight, an openly gay man who has been sexually abused repeatedly in a Texas prison. He told us, “I have a JDI file in my cell with all my holiday cards. When I feel low, I re-read them. Anytime I’m a little depressed, I reach my hand into my JDI folder and pull out a random card.” And there’s Johnny, who thanked JDI supporters “for bringing me and other survivors back to life by acknowledging us on the holidays.”
We’ve heard from countless others who, like Dwight and Johnny, saw their spirits lift simply because a person on the outside took a moment to show their compassion.
Want to take part in "Words of Hope"? Head here.
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