Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.

Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.

Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) was founded in 1980 by Russell Smith as People Organized to Stop the Rape of Imprisoned Persons (POSRIP). The group's mission was described in its first newsletter as "dealing with the problems of rape, sexual assault, un-consensual sexual slavery, and forced prostitution in the prison context." Like many of those involved in the early days of the organization, Smith himself was a victim of rape behind bars.


Renamed Stop Prisoner Rape, the group served as an outspoken voice for corrections reform. SPR has been the only organization willing to confront the issue for decades, staying afloat through the dedication of leaders who worked for no pay. SPR helped survivors of rape file damage claims, provided referrals for expert testimony, and encouraged class action suits against negligent institutions.


SPR was incorporated in 1994 by Stephen Donaldson, who was then its Eastern Regional Director and who went on to become its President. Donaldson, like Smith, was a victim of prisoner rape. During two days in 1973, when he was in jail on charges of trespassing on the White House during a peace protest, Donaldson was gang-raped approximately 60 times.

tephen Donaldson

Donaldson, who was also known as "Donny the Punk," was a powerful and uncompromising writer. As the leader of SPR, Donaldson wrote articles and editorials on prison sexual assault and was featured in media outlets nationwide, including the "New York Times", "USA Today", "Los Angeles Times", "Boston Globe", and "60 Minutes". He also coordinated SPR's amicus brief for the groundbreaking Supreme Court case on prisoner rape, "Farmer v. Brennan".

Donaldson launched SPR's website and litigated to protect its content. In April 1996, he testified on SPR's behalf in the case "Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union", which challenged the constitutionality of the just-created Communications Decency Act. The act sought to create standards for "decency" in content posted on the Internet, something SPR opposed because it could restrict access to the sometimes-explicit accounts of rape posted on the group's website. The Supreme Court declared the CDA unconstitutional in June 1997.

After the death of Donaldson in 1996 - as the result of AIDS contracted during a prison sexual assault - Don Collins, SPR's former Vice President, became the group's leader. Collins, also a prisoner rape survivor, served until 1998, when he was forced to resign for health reasons.

Tom Cahill followed Collins as SPR's President. Cahill recalls that during the early days he directed the group out of what was then his home: "A beat-up old camper on the back of an equally beat-up old pick-up truck parked mostly on the streets of San Francisco." He later moved the operation of SPR to a barn on a ranch north of San Francisco.

Cahill has continually drawn attention to the callousness of some corrections officials who do little to address rape behind bars - something he experienced firsthand. Arrested for civil disobedience in 1968, he was gang-raped and tortured by other jail inmates for more than 24 hours.

Permanent office

Buoyed by the increasing national attention the issue was finally beginning to receive, as well as by the generosity of donors, SPR underwent a significant transformation in 2001. The group opened its first permanent office, located in Los Angeles, and hired Lara Stemple, a lawyer with a background in human rights, as its Executive Director.

Prison Rape Elimination Act

SPR was instrumental in securing passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), the first-ever federal law addressing prisoner rape. SPR worked with Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle to develop the legislation and led a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations that supported PREA. Since PREA was signed into law by President Bush in September 2003, SPR has turned its attention to ensuring the law's meaningful implementation.


In 2005, Stemple was replaced as Executive Director by two experienced human rights advocates - Kathy Hall-Martinez and Lovisa Stannow - who now serve as the organization's Co-Executive Directors. Cahill retired from his position in 2006 and prisoner rape survivor T.J. Parsell became President. In 2007, David Kaiser was elected by the Board of Directors to become SPR’s new leader. Kaiser is a writer living in New York. He joined SPR’s Board in 2004 and previously served as Secretary.

More than a quarter century after its inception, SPR remains the only organization in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to the elimination of sexual violence in detention. Male and female survivors of sexual assault in custody serve on SPR's Board of Directors, its Board of Advisors, and as members of its Survivor Speakers List.

ee also

*National Prison Rape Elimination Commission


External links

* [ SPR website]

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