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'Lack Of Accountability': Female Correction Officers Call For Harsher Punishments Against Inmates Who Commit Sexual Assault

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There are disturbing allegations of female correction officers being harassed and sexually assaulted while on the job at Rikers Island.

Female correction officers spoke out Monday about being attacked by inmates, CBS2's Ali Bauman reports.

The Department of Correction union says at least 24 employees have been victims of sexual assault by an inmate this year.

One officer said she was nearly raped on the job and is calling for harsher consequences for detainees who commit sexual assault while behind bars.

The correction officers union joined city councilmembers outside Rikers Island, detailing what they call pervasive sexual harassment and assault by inmates.

"These women have been completely traumatized by what happened to them. But they never received the services, the care or compassion that they needed, still need, and deserve," said Councilmember Adrienne Adams.

Bauman spoke over the phone to a correction officer of seven years who was assaulted on the job by an inmate in 2019.

"The inmate tried to strangle me and he tried to rape me in the pantry," she said. "He proceeded to put the sweater around my neck and choked me out."

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was able to fight him off and later reported it to her supervisors, but received little support.

"They just took me from one facility to the next," she said. "And I'm scared and me telling them this, it went unheard."

"The lack of accountability for these horrific crimes committed behind bars is a stark reflection of how broken our criminal justice system is," said COBA 3rd Vice President Keisha Williams.

The DOC said it's "working with the Bronx DA and labor unions to ensure that victims of these heinous assaults receive the justice and support they deserve."

Mayor Bill de Blasio says there've been nine arrests in the 24 cases of sexual assault so far this year.

"Sexual harassment is absolutely unacceptable and where it's found there will be consequences, period," de Blasio said.

Councilmember Adams is proposing to amend New York's criminal code to make the forcible touching of a correction officer a felony. It's currently a class A misdemeanor.

"The resolution will also call for changing the penalty for aggravated assault of a correction officer from a civil infraction to a class A misdemeanor," Adams said.

"It's a slap in female correction officers' faces and we won't stop sounding the alarm until this charge becomes a felony," said Williams.

The DOC said it wholeheartedly supports those proposals to the state penal law.

The union is also demanding the DOC keep track of and make public reports of sexual assault and harassment.

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