In one case, a former inmate named Marianne Brown said a guard asked, “What are you going to do for me?” when she sought a roll of toilet paper from a Hunterdon County lockup’s store room.
“Then it hit me,” Brown said, according to NJ.com. “You know what it meant? Are you going to give them oral sex?”
During the online forum, titled “Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics,” the former inmates shared other accounts of sexual assaults, gropings and demands of sexual favors for other items, such as bubble gum.
Complaints filed against corrections officers were “ripped up in front of your face,” Brown alleged, according to the news outlet.
The forum was the fourth held since January since the work group was founded by state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat.
All of the former inmates testifying had served time at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, the state’s only correctional facility for women, according to NJ.com.
In April 2019, NJ.com reported that eight of the prison’s employees had been arrested since 2016, mostly on sexual abuse and contraband-related charges.
Another ex-inmate, Alyssa Feldman, said a corrections officer threatened to delay her parole if she failed to comply with his sexual demands.
“It was so open. … So much corruption,” she said.
“It was so open. … So much corruption.”
— Alyssa Feldman, former inmate
Gropings occurred during strip searches and the inmates were sometimes forced to sit naked inside holding cells as guards watched them, the ex-inmates testified.
“We were assaulted – physically, mentally, sexually,” ex-inmate Melissa Deandino testified.
In April, the same prison was the subject of a U.S. Justice Department report that detailed many of the same allegations.
That report asserted that sexual-abuse complaints at the prison “have been documented for decades.” It gave New Jersey officials until June to address the chronic problems but it was unclear if the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, met the federal deadline, according to NJ.com.
In addition to the four public hearings, several private hearings were held in which women shared their experiences in a broad range of settings connected to New Jersey state government.
Previous witnesses testifying before the workgroup included Katie Brennan, who recently settled a $1 million lawsuit against the state and Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign over how her rape complaint against a Murphy campaign staffer was handled.
Fox News reported in May that Brennan will get no cash from her settlement payment. Instead, $600,000 will go to a charity that helps low-income survivors of sexual assault and $400,000 will go toward Brennan’s legal costs.
“I think it’s a fair and reasonable settlement,” the governor said at the time, according to NorthJersey.com.