Survivor Safety: PREA Series Part II: PREA Protections & LGBTI Survivors

Apr 06th, 2023

by Grace Rupp, SART/PREA Policy Specialist

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 is a federal law establishing national standards to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and abuse in prisons, jails, and community and juvenile confinement facilities. PREA seeks to:

  • prevent and respond to sexual violence in detention;
  • screen for risk of sexual abusiveness and victimization;
  • train and educate those working with incarcerated survivors;
  • standardize the reporting, investigations, and discipline associated with incidents of sexual violence;
  • provide medical and mental health care to those impacted by sexual harassment; and 
  • collect and review data regarding sexual harassment and violence in detention. 

The PREA regulations apply to federal, state, juvenile, local correctional facilities and lockups and highlight the need to protect inmates who hold marginalized identities. Specifically, the PREA standards include key protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) survivors and inmates. PREA provides guidelines for training staff and technical assistance in preventing and responding to sexual violence targeted at members of the LGBTI community in incarceration facilities.

Sexual violence in detention is pervasive, especially for those within the LGBTI community. Those who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual are disproportionately incarcerated: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail (Meyer et al. 2012). The overall incarceration rate of those who self-identify as LGBTI is 1882 per 100,000, more than three times that of the non-incarcerated adult population in the United States (Ibid., 2012). 12% of sexual minorities (those who self-identified as LGBTI) report being victimized by another inmate, and 5% report being victimized by staff, compared with 1 and 2% of straight inmates, respectively (Wilson et al. 2017). 

Inmates who identify as transgender are the most vulnerable – updated research estimates that 35% of transgender inmates in federal prisons and 34% in local jails report experiencing one or more incidences of sexual violence (Beck, 2013). In its final summary of PREA regulations, the Department of Justice recognized that “the particular vulnerabilities of inmates who are [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex] LGBTI or whose appearance or manner does not conform to traditional gender expectations” and included protections against the types of assault, harassment, and prolonged isolation that are commonly experienced by LGBTI individuals in custody (Beck 2013).

Outside of the standards that protect and respond to the needs of all inmates who experience sexual violence, PREA outlines specific protections for LGBTI inmates. First, facilities must screen new inhabitants to assess their risk of experiencing and perpetrating abuse, including identifying those who may be at risk because of their transgender status, gender nonconformity, sexual orientation, or intersex identity. An individual’s own perception of their vulnerability must also be considered (Prison Rape Elimination Act, 2003). LGBTI community members cannot be disciplined for refusing to disclose or for disclosing their gender identity, sexual orientation, intersex identity, disability status, or prior sexual victimization. This disclosure must be used to make appropriate, individualized decisions about an individual’s security classification, housing, work and educational placement. 

Housing, work and educational decisions cannot be assessed exclusively on the bases of a person's anatomy or gender assigned at birth, with decisions assessed at least biannually to  consider changed circumstances such as incidents of abuse or changes in an individual’s appearance or medical treatment. Transgender and intersex inmates must be given an opportunity to shower and bathe separately from other inmates if they wish, regardless of housing.

In addition, PREA provides specific guidance regarding protective custody, strip searches, and training for staff members. The PREA standards restrict the use of protective custody or segregation as means of securing survivors’ safety after sexual violence. Instead, institutions are required to provide all other available alternatives before placing a survivor in protective custody. Alternatives may include relocating the perpetrator, providing heightened security and supervision, changing survivors’ housing placements, or transferring facilities. Protective custody must be used as a last resort for LGBTI survivors. In cases where a survivor must be placed in segregation as a last resort, access to programs, education, and other opportunities must continue to the greatest extent possible, with the segregation placement limited to thirty days. Research suggests that holding people in segregation for extended periods of time can create or exacerbate serious mental health problems and symptoms, leading to decreases in physical health and functioning (Lovell, 2008). Incidents of self harm and reports of suicidality are also significantly higher in segregated housing (Homer, 2014). 

The PREA standards prohibit cross-gender strip searches and cavity searches except in emergencies, or those conducted by a medical professional, with all searches conducted in the least intrusive manner possible. Staff must be trained on how to be professional and respectful in conducting searches of transgender people. Outside of strip search training, staff must also receive training on a variety of issues related to sexual abuse response and prevention, including interacting professionally with LGBTI inmates.

The PREA standards offer important protections for LGBTI inmates, providing key prevention measures, reporting mechanisms, and training for staff.  Both confidential advocacy and reporting hotlines are available for LBGTI incarcerated survivors in Maryland. For survivors who would like to report their experiences of sexual abuse while incarcerated or those who would like to make a third-party report, the Maryland PREA Reporting Hotline – 410-585-3177 – serves as the state-level reporting mechanism. For survivors who are seeking confidential advocacy, the Maryland Prison Rape and Sexual Assault Help Line – 855-971-4700 – can provide survivors with confidential support, including safety planning, emotional support, and informational resources. This helpline is a free confidential resource for incarcerated survivors across the state and is not a reporting hotline. In addition to the PREA Help Line, survivors can also reach out to their local Rape Crisis Center’s 24/7 hotline. Hotline advocates provide crisis intervention services, emotional and physical safety planning, and reporting information for incarcerated LGBTI survivors. 

Maryland Prison Rape and Sexual Assault Help Line

855 - 971 - 4700




Allen J. Beck, et al, Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2013). Retrieved from:

David Lovell, “Patterns of Disturbed Behavior in a Supermax Population,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 35, no. 8 (2008): 985-1004. Retrieved from:

Kaba F, Lewis A, Glowa-Kollisch S, Hadler J, Lee D, Alper H, Selling D, MacDonald R, Solimo A, Parsons A, Venters H. Solitary confinement and risk of self-harm among jail inmates. Am J Public Health. (2014). Retrieved from:

Meyer IH, Flores AR, Stemple L, Romero AP, Wilson BD, Herman JL. Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011-2012. Am J Public Health. Retrieved from:

National PREA Resource Center. Standards Overview. (2023). Retrieved from:

Wilson BDM, Jordan SP, Meyer IH, Flores AR, Stemple L, Herman JL. Disproportionality and Disparities among Sexual Minority Youth in Custody. J Youth Adolesc. 2017 Jul;46(7):1547-1561. Retrieved from:

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