- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A female guard suing the state over an Iowa prison’s practice of showing sexually graphic movies to rapists and sex offenders was told that sexual harassment from inmates was an unfortunate condition of her employment, her attorney said Thursday.

Kristine Sink, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in November 2012, says the Iowa Department of Corrections allowed violent prison inmates to be shown movies depicting women being tortured and raped and erotic programs showing explicit sexual content. She alleges that the images encouraged inmates to harass and threaten her.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Tyler Smith, representing the state, acknowledged during closing arguments that it was a mistake to show such movies, but said officials dealt appropriately with Sink’s issues and that the challenges she faced were part of working in a prison.

“There were sporadic errors, but those movies were pulled and the process was fixed. It is not perfect. It is not pretty, but it is not harassment,” he said.

A jury of four women and four men began deliberating the case Thursday afternoon.

Sink says she endured inmates masturbating at her, threatening to kill her, and on one occasion she was doused with an inmate’s urine. She alleges supervisors allowed inmate harassment to continue over a period of years during which supervisors belittled her complaints and co-workers harassed her.

Her attorney, Paige Fiedler, said Sink was told by one supervisor that she was a beautiful women working in a men’s prison and she should “expect that someone would want to rape you.”

“In some ways the Iowa State Penitentiary is still acting like it’s 1979,” Fiedler told the jury. “These are things you just don’t hear anymore.”

During the three-week trial, Fiedler showed the jury 12 clips from movies the prison had shown.

No taxpayer dollars were used to provide the movies or the television on which they were viewed. Inmate funds paid for them, Smith said. He explained they were a way for officers to give inmates something to watch to occupy their time.

Fiedler said Sink documented at least 15 written threats from inmates, including threats of murder, beating and rape.

She has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and experiences nightmares and fear similar to post-traumatic stress disorder faced by soldiers in battle, Fiedler said. She told jurors $4.5 million for past and present emotional distress is fair compensation.

The jury can award any damages it deems appropriate.

Smith suggested that Sink was seeking special treatment.

“All officers there face these exact same challenges. Officer Sink’s often were less severe than what co-workers faced on a regular basis,” he said. “The trial made it seem like Iowa State Penitentiary is an unruly chaotic place. It is not. It is a place that deals with challenging offenders, but rates of assaults, masturbation and other events are similar to those around the country.”

When officials finally barred movies with sexually explicit content in September 2011, inmates blamed Sink and subjected her to a torrent of insults and death threats, according to her attorney. Sink filed the lawsuit a year later.

She continues to work at the prison but in an area away from inmates.

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