The #MeToo movement erupted in late 2017 following the explosive sexual-abuse allegations levied against celebrated film producer Harvey Weinstein by some of Hollywood’s A-list actresses–and the world paid attention.
Meanwhile, every year women are sexually coerced and/or abused in county and state prisons across the country and in response to their vulnerabilities and abuse, we typically hear crickets.
When we learned last week that Riverside corrections deputy Christian Heidecker was arrested on suspicion of extorting female inmates for sex, it was just one more scandal for our already scandal-ridden sheriff’s department.
The serious allegations however, were made more unseemly by the fact that women in custody’s ability to say “no” is limited by their status as detainees which can often leave them vulnerable to other harms and possible retaliation, victimizing them even further.
In this instance, these women were then further victimized but in a different way. In recent days an LA Times report broke the news that Riverside County had sought to buy these victims’ silence.
Certainly, on one level we understand the county/sheriff departments’ desire to perform their fiduciary responsibilities and protect taxpayer dollars by seeking to curtail costs related to these cases by settling them for little to no money ($1K to $3K). But, seeking to silence women who were sexually harmed while entrusted to the sheriff’s department—before they’ve had their day in court and before the perpetrator was even arrested— seems a bit inappropriate. Although the county may be well within its rights to offer these settlements, the question is whether it is morally the right thing to do.
For a county official to declare the “pre-litigation settlements do not contain nondisclosure language” still does not make it right. This is especially true since the women are claiming they felt they were being pressured to take the money.
Another part of this scenario that also raises red flags are reports stating the outside attorney for the county involved with the “hush money” negotiations is possibly the wife of a high ranking official in Sheriff Chad Bianco’s organization.
The victims in this case are speaking out because they want other women not to be afraid to come forward. “We just want justice,” one of the victims shared while also claiming there are crimes being committed inside the jails.
With so much going on regarding failures of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department it is important that we continue to shine a light on the organization.
California Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley) is calling for Attorney General Rob Bonta to expand his current patterns and practices investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is encouraging others who may be victims of sexual abuse in a Riverside County jail or who have information that may be useful to this case to come forward and share your story. You are encouraged to contact Riverside Sheriff’s Master Investigator R. Deanne at (951) 955-2777.