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The Unique Sexual Harassment Problem Female Prison Workers Face (2017)

When women report abuse from the men in their custody.

The sexual harassment began in 1994, Paula Purdy says, shortly after she started work as a corrections officer at the Denver County Jail. Colleagues made demeaning comments about her body. One male captain made her so uncomfortable she avoided him. But the worst abuse came from inmates, who would make sexual remarks and masturbate at her as she did rounds in their housing areas. Purdy says she reported the behavior to her bosses, but there were few consequences. “I would get emotional at work several times a day,” she said.

Over the years, the harassment by male prisoners grew more intense, and Purdy says she became reluctant to do everyday things like grocery shop, afraid she’d encounter one of the men on the outside. As a single mother, she felt trapped in her job. “It’s not like you can up and quit,” she said. Eventually, she decided she’d had enough. In 2015, she retired early at age 55, even though it meant taking a reduced pension.

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