Prison Rape Basics

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on Prisoner Rape.

The Basics on Prisoner Rape

Did you know that prisoner rape...

...affects large numbers of men, women, and youth

 The few studies that have been done on prisoner rape reveal astonishing rates of abuse. A recent study of prisons in four Midwestern states found that approximately 20 percent of male inmates reported a pressured or forced sex incident while incarcerated. About nine percent of male inmates reported that that they had been raped. Unfortunately, no conclusive nationwide data exist.

Rates for women, who are most likely to be abused by male staff members, vary greatly among institutions. In one facility, 27 percent of women reported a pressured or forced sex incident, while another had virtually no reported sexual abuse, illustrating the fact that such abuse is not inevitable. As with the abuse of men, the problem of sexual abuse of women in prison has not been adequately studied.

Youth in detention are also extremely vulnerable to abuse. 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 becomes much greater.

Overcrowding and insufficient staffing are among the chief reasons for prisoner rape, and recent changes in criminal justice policy have exacerbated the problem by swelling prison populations beyond capacity. In 1985, the inmate population was approximately 750,000. Today, nearly 2 million people are serving time, and more than 10 million separate admissions to and discharges from prisons and jails occurred in 1999 alone. One out of every 140 people in the United States is now behind bars, the highest rate of any industrialized nation.

...causes serious physical and psychological harm

Following an incident of rape, victims may experience vaginal or rectal bleeding, soreness and bruising (and much worse in the case of violent attacks), insomnia, nausea, shock, disbelief, withdrawal, anger, shame, guilt, and humiliation. Long term consequences may include post traumatic stress disorder, rape trauma syndrome, ongoing fear, nightmares, flashbacks, self-hatred, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Rates of HIV are five to ten times as high inside of prison as outside, making forced or coerced sex - where prevention methods are virtually nonexistent - a deadly proposition. Though reliable statistics are unavailable, inmates have contracted HIV through prisoner rape, a phenomena that has been described as "an unadjudicated death sentence."

In addition to the possibility of disease exposure that both male and female rape victims experience, female inmates have been impregnated as a result of staff sexual misconduct. Some of these women have then been further subjected to inappropriate segregation and denial of adequate healthcare services.

Upon release, male prisoner rape survivors may bring with them emotional scars and learned violent behavior that continue the cycle of harm. Feelings of rage can be suppressed until release, when survivors may engage in violent, antisocial behavior and the aggressive assertion of their masculinity, including the commission of rape on others.

Many survivors of prisoner rape blame themselves. Male survivors often feel that they have been stripped of their "manhood." The tendency of perpetrators to feminize their victims and the general use of misleading terms such as "homosexual rape" cause many heterosexual men to feel that their sexuality has been compromised. Gay survivors may blame their sexual orientation for the rape.

Survivors involved in perpetual sexual exploitation (sometimes spanning years) who must repeatedly submit to avoid further violence unsurprisingly experience serious and enduring psychological consequences.

...targets the vulnerable

Though anyone can become a victim, those who tend to be targeted for male prisoner-on-prisoner rape include those who are younger, smaller, and gay (or possess feminine traits). Many are first-time or non-violent offenders in the early part of their sentences who are unable to defend themselves or who lack the protection that comes with gang membership.

Believing they have no choice, some male prisoners consent to sexual acts to avoid violence. For others, gang rape and other brutal assaults have left them beaten, bloodied, and in rare cases, dead. Often, those who live through the experience are marked as targets for further attacks, eventually forcing victims to accept long term sexual enslavement in order to survive. Treated like the perpetrator's property, the victim may be forced into servitude that includes prostitution arrangements with other male prisoners.

For women prisoners, particular characteristics do not play such a large role in determining who will be targeted for sexual abuse by male staff, but first-time offenders, young women, and mentally disabled women are particularly vulnerable.

Male custodial officials have vaginally, anally, and orally raped female prisoners and have abused their authority by exchanging goods and privileges for sex. Male corrections officers are often allowed to watch female inmates when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet, and some regularly engage in verbal degradation and harassment of women prisoners. Women also report groping and other sexual abuse by male staff during pat frisks and searches.

...violates international, U.S., and state laws

Prisoner rape is violation of international human rights law that meets the definition of torture: the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering for an illicit purpose and committed, consented, or acquiesced to by public officials. The rape of persons in detention has been classified as torture by several international bodies. In addition, the U.S. has ratified treaties that prohibit torture, slavery, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, without exception.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prisoner rape is a violation of the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia criminalize rape and sexual assault, and all but four states have statutes addressing the sexual abuse of inmates by prison staff.

...but has been allowed to continue.

In short, the response to prisoner rape has been indifferent and irresponsible. Reporting procedures, where they exist, are often ineffectual, and complaints by prisoners about sexual assault are routinely ignored by prison staff and government authorities. In general, corrections officers are not adequately trained to prevent sexual assault or to treat survivors after an attack.

Even simple prevention measures, such as pairing cellmates according to risk, are uncommon, and basic supervision is often lacking. Prisoner rape occurs most easily when no one is around to see or hear, particularly at night and in hidden areas that are difficult to monitor. Inmates complain about a lack of vigilance, even reporting that screams for help have gone unanswered.

Punishment for prisoner rape is rare. Few public prosecutors concern themselves with crimes against inmates, and instead leave such problems to the discretion of prison authorities. As a result, perpetrators of prisoner rape almost never face charges. Staff members who sexually abuse inmates are rarely held accountable, facing only light administrative sanctions, if any. In fact, some female inmates have reported retaliation from corrections officers against whom reports of sexual misconduct have been lodged.

Prisoner rape has been used in some cases as a tool to punish inmates for misbehavior. Male inmates have testified that they were forced into cells with know sexual predators as a form of punishment for unrelated misconduct.

Potential victims of prisoner rape are routinely separated from the rest of the prison population in administrative segregation (similar to solitary confinement) as a putative solution to prisoner rape. Such isolation is extremely difficult to endure, discourages reports of abuse, and effectively punishes victims.

Prisoner rape also costs taxpayers dearly in the form of higher rates of recidivism and re-incarceration, increased violence, higher rates of substance abuse, lawsuits brought by victims, mental health services, and medical care including treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Yet these high costs have failed to inspire even the most basic measures to address the problem.

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