When Kenneth Dewitt, a former prison chaplain, pleaded guilty to three charges of raping inmates at the Women’s Unit at Newport, the prosecutor defended a five-year plea bargained sentence (which likely will mean as little as a year of time served) by saying Dewitt had admitted guilt and was “willing to accept” prison time.
Some thought the sentence seemed lenient for a prison employee who used his position to force inmates to provide sex on his demand. Add one of the victims to that list.
Huffington Post brings the story of Leticia Villareal, 42, an undocumented immigrant who said she was raped by Dewitt while serving a 40-year drug sentence. His faith-based program, it appears, provided a good way to groom women for sexual predation.
According to conversations with former PAL participants, Dewitt would give daily lectures on topics such as personal responsibility, curing impure thoughts and the importance of submitting to authority ― both within a family structure, meaning a wife should submit to her husband, and inside the prison where they were all stuck.
Villarreal grew hopeful about life, even though she faced a 40-year sentence for the manufacture, delivery and possession of a controlled substance.
“I began to apply myself to study,” she said. “I knew I needed to change, I just didn’t know how.”
After Villarreal had been in the program a few years, Dewitt invited her to receive individual training, and requested she report to his office at 6 a.m. one Monday. She was excited to be singled out, she said, and eager for advanced instruction.
When she arrived, Villarreal told The Huffington Post, Dewitt said he knew exactly what she needed: to be touched. Intimately. For a few minutes each morning, the guards in the hallway outside Dewitt’s office left to perform an inmate count. The chaplain chose that moment to fondle her breasts and buttocks, she said.
That morning was just the beginning of her nightmare.
Villarreal said Dewitt would call her to his office every Monday and sexually victimize her, forcing her into oral sex and intercourse. And she wasn’t the only one: Two other women in the PAL program also told state police Dewitt had subjected them to weekly sexual abuses. One woman reported that the assaults went on undetected for three and a half years. For Villarreal, they continued for about a year and a half, she said.
Unlike the national attention give to campus sexual assaults, no outcry has emerged for Dewitt’s victims. Two of the three victims remain in prison. Villareal was released in 2015 and deported to Mexico. The victims have been afforded no publicized victim impact statement about assault by an authority figure. The public may have less sympathy for incarcerated women, the story notes, though evidence mounts of growing sexual assault of women in prison.
Villareal said she spoke out because she wanted to touch people’s lives. She’d have never told her story had Dewitt not lost his job for having sex with another chaplain.
Villarreal said she considers Dewitt’s sentence to be a slap on the wrist, but that she’s glad the ordeal is over.
“I think he should do more time, but again, I don’t have a voice because I’m not over there,” she said. “Or maybe I don’t have a voice because I’m not legal. That’s how they treat people like me.”
The Correction Department says it has taken a variety of steps to improve safety for inmates.