Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prison Rape in the United States

Prison rape commonly refers to the rape of inmates in prison by other inmates or prison staff.

According to the study conducted by the United States Department of Justice for the year 2006, there were 2,205 allegations of inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts reported, total, in the U.S. prison system. 262 of the allegations were substantiated.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 140,000 inmates are raped each year, and there is a significant variation in the rates of prison rape by race. Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc. statistics indicate that there are more men raped in U.S. prisons than non-incarcerated women similarly assaulted. They estimate that young men are five times more likely to be attacked; and that the prison rape victims are ten times more likely to contract a deadly disease.

Prison rape has become a staple of comedy or drama in films and television. Films such as Office Space, Half Baked, and Let's Go to Prison have used it as a darkly humorous topic, while prison drama Oz contained multiple scenes of rape.

Ramifications and statistics

Research has shown that juveniles incarcerated with adults are five times more likely to report being victims of sexual assault than youth in juvenile facilities, and the suicide rate of juveniles in adult jails is 7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers. As states try growing numbers of juveniles as adults, the risk of sexual abuse increases.

In the United States, public awareness of the phenomenon of prison rape is a relatively recent development and estimates to its prevalence have varied widely for decades. In 1974 Carl Weiss and David James Friar wrote that 46 million Americans would one day be incarcerated; of that number, they claimed, 10 million would be raped. A 1992 estimate from the Federal Bureau of Prisons conjectured that between 9 and 20 percent of inmates had been sexually assaulted. Studies in 1982 and 1996 both concluded that the rate was somewhere between 12 and 14 percent; the 1996 study, by Cindy Struckman-Johnson, concluded that 18 percent of assaults were carried out by prison staff. A 1986 study by Daniel Lockwood put the number at around 23 percent for maximum security prisons in New York. In contrast, Christine Saum's 1994 survey of 101 inmates showed 5 had been sexually assaulted. One in ten male inmates is raped in prison, mostly by fellow prisoners. Among women the number is one in forty and the offenders are more likely to be prison staff members.

Prison rape cases have drastically risen in recent years, mostly attributed to an increase in counseling and reports. The threat of AIDS, which affects many of those raped in prison, has also resulted in the increase of reported cases for the benefit of medical assistance.

Racial dimensions of prison rape

According to a detailed study of prison rape in U.S. prisons by Human Rights Watch, white people are disproportionately targeted. The report stated:

Past studies have documented the prevalence of black on white sexual aggression in prison. These findings are further confirmed by Human Rights Watch's own research. Overall, our correspondence and interviews with white, black, and Hispanic inmates convince us that white inmates are disproportionately targeted for abuse. Although many whites reported being raped by white inmates, black on white abuse appears to be more common.

Prison rape and sexuality

In prison rape, the perpetrator and victim are almost always the same sex (due to the gender-segregated nature of prison confinement). As such, a host of issues regarding sexual orientation and gender roles are associated with the topic.

In U.S. male prisons, rapists generally identify themselves as heterosexual and confine themselves to non-receptive sexual acts. Victims, commonly referred to as "punks" or "bitches," may or may not be seen as homosexual. "Punks" is a term for those who are generally confined to performing receptive sexual acts. Moreover, though "punks" are coerced into a sexual arrangement with an aggressor in exchange for protection, these men generally consider themselves heterosexual.

Inmates who are transgender face further difficulties, and Stop Prisoner Rape asserts that such inmates are almost certain to be sexually assaulted in prison. Some prisons separate known homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people from the general prison population to prevent rape and violence against them. Not surprisingly, many heterosexuals identify themselves to authorities as homosexuals so that they will be sent to the 'gay tank' where they will be protected from homosexual rape. There are, however, other methods to get oneself segregated from population, such as rule infractions or feigned suicide attempts. Other inmates have resorted to killing their rapist (or probable future rapist), particularly those who already have long sentences and are thus virtually immune from further legal consequences.

Shame regarding perceived homosexuality may contribute to the under-reporting of prison rape by victims. Prison rape statistics are much higher than reported, as many victims are afraid to report, being threatened with physical violence by rapists if reported, as well as staff indifference.

Federal Law Public Law 108-79 was passed in the United States in 2003. According to Stop Prisoner Rape, inc.,

“The bill calls for the gathering of national statistics about the problem; the development of guidelines for states about how to address prisoner rape; the creation of a review panel to hold annual hearings; and the provision of grants to states to combat the problem. "Unfortunately, in many facilities throughout the country sexual abuse continues virtually unchecked," said Stemple. "Too often, corrections officers turn a blind eye, or in the case of women inmates, actually perpetrate the abuse. We hope federal legislation will not only create incentives for states to take this problem seriously, but also give facilities the tools and information they need to prevent it."


Many human rights groups, such as the Human Rights Watch and Stop Prisoner Rape, have cited documented incidents showing that prison staff tolerate rape as a means of controlling the prison population in general.

The topic of prison rape is relatively common in American humor. Jokes such as "don't drop the soap" seem to suggest that prison rape is an acceptable consequence of being sent to prison. This phenomenon is exemplified by the 2006 U.S. feature film Let's Go to Prison or the board game Don't Drop the Soap being marketed by John Sebelius, the son of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Songs have also been composed about the topic, e.g. the song "Prison Bitch". By contrast, prison rape is not a stock topic of jokes in most other Western cultures.

U.S. Federal law, under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, calls for the compilation of national prison rape statistics, annual hearings by a review panel, and the provision of grants to the states to address prison rape. A first, highly-controversial and disputed study, funded under the PREA by Mark Fleisher, concludes prison rape is rare: "Prison rape worldview doesn't interpret sexual pressure as coercion," he wrote. "Rather, sexual pressure ushers, guides or shepherds the process of sexual awakening."

[Via Wikipedia]

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