More Than 500 Women Join Cook County Jail Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

The lawsuit describes graphic instances of sexual harassment, including detainees masturbating in front of female guards and threatening them.

Cook County Jail
The Cook County Department of Corrections after the jail reported its first death due to COVID-19 in Chicago on April 7, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Cook County Jail
The Cook County Department of Corrections after the jail reported its first death due to COVID-19 in Chicago on April 7, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

More Than 500 Women Join Cook County Jail Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

The lawsuit describes graphic instances of sexual harassment, including detainees masturbating in front of female guards and threatening them.

More than 500 women joined a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Cook County sheriff’s office and the county, alleging that management failed to protect women employees at the jail, courthouse and medical facilities. The lawsuit describes graphic instances of sexual harassment, including detainees masturbating in front of female guards, threatening them with sexual violence and groping them.

In a statement, Sheriff Tom Dart said his office has taken “comprehensive measures” to stop detainees masturbating in front of staff, including specialized jumpsuits and criminal charges. He says the number of reported sexual misconduct incidents has dropped by roughly two-thirds since December 2016.

Reset speaks to a retired correctional officer and an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Full statement from Sheriff Dart: “The Sheriff’s Office works every day to prevent and deter those ordered into its custody from engaging in acts of violence or sexual misconduct toward staff and others and has done so long before this lawsuit was filed nearly four years ago. The Office has enacted innovative and comprehensive measures to prevent and deter detained persons intent on masturbating in front of staff, including the use of specialized jumpsuits and new cuffing procedures, increased disciplinary consequences, filing of new criminal charges against offenders, and efforts to pass state laws that would strengthen the Office’s ability to protect its employees. In fact, the CCSO has reduced the frequency of reported sexual misconduct related incidents by roughly two-thirds since December 2016. The Plaintiffs’ Counsels’ motion to intervene filed yesterday was required by the District Court following the Seventh Appellate Circuit’s ruling in favor of the Sheriff’s Office to vacate Plaintiffs’ counsel’s inappropriate attempt to certify a class action. The safety of all persons who enter the Jail is the highest priority for the Sheriff’s Office, and we will continue to defend our record on supporting our staff and aggressively addressing incidents of sexual misconduct by detained individuals.”

GUESTS: Barbara Unseld, retired correctional officer and plaintiff

Marni Willenson, attorney