Dozens of women are suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. They say they were sexually abused by prison staff while serving time at state prisons in Chino and Chowchilla.
More than 130 former female inmates claim they were sexually abused by prison staff at California Institution for Women in Chino and Central California Women's Facility located in Chowchilla.
One of the women, only identified as Jessica, served time at Chowchilla where she says she was sexually abused by the very guards who supervised her.
"It is not just the sexual abuse a lot of it is the verbal abuse, the way they put us down, the way they make sexual gestures, they mock us, sexual statements," said Jessica.
A lawsuit filed in December alleges widespread sexual abuse happening throughout the two facilities by correctional officers who wielded power over inmates and their ability to refuse advances. In several instances, guards would allegedly isolate inmates and force them to perform sexual acts.
It also alleges that female inmates "at all times were coerced and threatened not to report sexual abuse through physical and verbal acts of intimidation, actual and/or constructive retaliation, and/or other form of deterrence."
"They could get away with it because it came down to credibility of a prisoner versus somebody who is in a position of power and authority over them," said Doug Rochen with ACTS Firm.
Rochen is representing the women in their lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and correctional officers. Beyond the sexual misconduct by prison staff, the lawsuit accuses the CDCR of inadequate hiring practices, procedures and training to prevent the conduct, and seeks to make changes.
"That will require a Herculean effort by the state of California that is necessary so that even though these individual women are in custody they have the same liberties to be free from sexual abuse as they would if they were outside the penitentiary system."
In response to Eyewitness News CDCR said it could not comment on pending litigation but is investigating the allegations stating,
"CDCR resolutely condemns any staff member - especially a peace officer who is entrusted to enforce the law - who violates their oath and shatters the trust of the public. "
The lawsuit also seeks monetary compensation for the women to seek help dealing with lingering trauma.