Bureau of Justice Statistics discredits inmate sex abuse claim

Days after a former Clallam County jail inmate came forward claiming three women conspired to make false reports of sexual abuse during a federal survey, the survey administrators discredited her.

Elizabeth Stallings was in jail on possession of methamphetamine and theft charges during the "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-2009" survey. After the results ranking Clallam County jail third out of 286 for

inmate-reported sexual abuse by jail staff, she e-mailed Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict claiming she heard three women joking about giving the "worst possible untruthful answers."

Benedict responded by issuing the following in a public statement: "I can unequivocally state that the survey's finding of 6.1 percent of survey inmates having experienced sexual misconduct by the jail staff as a complete fabrication by several inmates who intentionally misled the interviewers with false answers."

But BJS statistician Allen Beck said it wouldn't have been possible for the three women to skew the data because only one woman reported abuse through the anonymous survey and the rest were men.

Beck said three men and one woman alleged they were victims of sexual misconduct by jail staff in the anonymous survey. In addition, three inmates alleged they were sexually abused by fellow inmates, he said.

A total of 75 inmates participated in the voluntary survey over a period of four days in 2009.

When the results of the survey were printed in the Sequim Gazette on Sept. 7, Benedict invited the FBI to investigate. He received word Sept. 17 they would not be investigating because no victims had come forward.

"I can't investigate a murder without a body," Benedict said.

Benedict said he is at a loss for what to do next.

"You can't prove or disprove a negative," he said. "I'd be open to someone who could come in and show evidence."

Benedict asked again that anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse at the jail to call the FBI at 360-394-8188.

Benedict maintains at least one of the claims in the survey, the one made by the woman, was fabricated, based on Stallings' e-mail.

Benedict said a survey given to 100 people could result in 3 or 4 percent of them saying they were visited by aliens.

"What if these were claims of alien visits?" he asked. "Would we be so worked up?"

He added that he sees mental illness he can't treat in his jail as a bigger problem than alleged sexual abuse.

"People who are mentally ill, what are they going to say?" he said. "A lot of them are delusional."

He takes issue with claims that sexual victimization of inmates by staff happened in locked closets, which the jail doesn't have, or outside the jail.

The only place outside the jail inmates go is the chain gang, he said, and if a jail staff member were having sex with one of the inmates the rest would notice because they are chained together.

"There aren't any places people can hide to do all this sex," he said.

Beck emphasized that the survey only contains allegations, not assertions of truth.

"Not all these allegations could be true," he said. "But we know that you can't make the assumption that all victims lie, whether it's women being abused by their husbands or children being abused or neglected. You can't assume that all inmates lie."

Beck said if jail administrators were to assume the reports were all lies, they should ask themselves why their inmates lied more than inmates at other jails.

"My position has always been that correctional authorities should look at the data, consider the possibility that they might have a problem, examine what they know, what we're reporting and make a decision," he said. "I think that's the appropriate response and I think that's the response being made by others across the country."

Benedict said it is possible sexual abuse by jail staff could happen but it isn't probable and it hasn't been reported since one incident in the late 1990s.

"I think it's a possibility but the probability is extremely low," he said. "I think if there was abuse going on, we'd have some victims coming forward."

Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequim

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