Prisoner rape is a problem that affects large numbers of men, women and youth. It causes serious physical and psychological harm. It targets the vulnerable. It violates international, U.S. and state laws, but it has been allowed to continue. Overcrowding and insufficient staffing are key contributors to prisoner rape, and recent changes in criminal justice policy have made the problem worse by swelling prison and jail populations beyond capacity. 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.
WHO IS TARGETED?
The victims of prisoner rape are typically among the most vulnerable members of the population in custody.
Male victims are often young, nonviolent, first-time offenders who are small, weak, shy, gay or effeminate. Also they are inexperienced in the way of prison life. 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. Those who have lived through the attacks are often marked as targets for future attacks. They are eventually forced into long term sexual enslavement.
It is reported in the Midwestern states that approximately one in five male inmates reported a pressured or forced sexual incident while incarcerated. About one in ten male inmates reported that they had been raped.
Women at risk are usually those that are young, mentally ill and first-time offenders. 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. Some regularly engage in verbal degradation and harassment of women prisoners.
Juveniles incarcerated with adults are far more likely to report being victims of sexual assault than youth in juvenile facilities. The suicide rate of juveniles in adult jails is higher than that of juvenile detention centers. With states trying larger numbers of juveniles as adults, the risk of sexual abuse will increase.
Punishment for prisoner rape is rare. There are not many public prosecutors that concern themselves with crimes against inmates and they leave this problem to the discretion of prison authorities. Because of this perpetrators of prisoner rape seldom face charges. Staff members who sexually abuse prisoners are rarely held accountable. They may face only light administrative sanctions if anything.
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 known 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 that is similar to solitary confinement. This isolation is extremely difficult to endure. It discourages reports of abuse, and effectively punishes the victims.
THE PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF PRISONER ABUSE
Victims of prison rape are inflicted with serious physical and psychological harm. Victims may experience rectal bleeding, soreness and bruising. In the case of a violent attack this is much worse. Insomnia, nausea, shock, disbelief, withdrawal, anger, shame, guilt, and humiliation also results from the abuse.
Long term consequences may include post traumatic stress disorder, rape trauma syndrome, ongoing fear, nightmares, flashbacks, self-hatred, substance abuse, anxiety, depression and suicide.
THE EFFECTS ON SOCIETY
Prisoner rape has negative effects on the society in general, not just the population behind bars. Prisoner rape spreads diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis A and B, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Prisoners are not the only ones who suffer from the spread of diseases. Most of these inmates are released and with them comes all the diseases. Some are released without the needed knowledge, skills or access to resources to treat their conditions or stop the cycle of transmission. Allowing the spread of diseases among prisoners hurts everyone inside and out.
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. These high cost have still failed to inspire most facilities to implement even the most basic measures to address the problem.
The sexual assault of prisoners, whether by a correctional officer or by another inmate, is not only a crime, but in many cases, it is also a form of torture under international law.
More than 65 countries expressly provide for the right to be free from torture or cruel and unusual punishment. International customary law also bars the use of torture. Torture is a form of behavior that the United States has denounced in other nations, but the torture of American prisoners through sexual assault has long been allowed to continue.
Nobody deserves to be raped. The U.S. Supreme court has held that prisoner rape is a violation of an individual's constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Rape in custody violates internationally agreed upon instruments that protect human rights.
Everyone has different views and with each one lays a misconception about sexual assault behind bars and those who suffer from it. The misconception may lead many to act as if prison rape is something to laugh about, instead of recognizing it for what it is-a violation of fundamental human rights that derails justice and destroys human dignity.