According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Justice Department, 4.5 percent of all state and federal inmates in the United States reported seual victimization of some form in the year 2007. In that year the national prison population was in excess of 1.5 million persons. This means that more than 70,000 inmates report being sexually abused in that one year. And, these numbers don’t include persons incarcerated in correctional facilities on the county level. In the same year, there were almost 250,000 victims of sexual assaults nationwide. Rape committed against inmates is a national epidemic that has been kept out of the public eye for too long. It should be a concern not only for the heinous act of the rape itself, but also because it is being committed against persons that are supposed to be in a protected situation.
In our system of justice, whenever a person is incarcerated in a jail, prison, or any kind of correctional facility, that person’s safety and well-being becomes the responsibility of society. In this case, the correctional facility staff take on this responsibility. Persons who are charged with or convicted of a crime temporarily forfeit some of their rights as citizens of our country, but they do not give up the right to be kept safe. They are under the care of the criminal justice system. Any time one of these inmates is raped, the system has failed in its responsibility.
Rape is a sexually-motivated crime that demeans its victim, violating that person in ways that are difficult to understand for anyone who has not had to live through it. Rape committed against an inmate has . Whether male on female, male on male, or female on male, rape is a criminal act under any circumstances, and one that leaves behind physical and emotional trauma. For this reason, it is difficult to know the exact number of rapes that occur in a prison setting. Just as with other victims of rape, it is difficult for inmates to come forward and talk about what has been done to them.
There are two forms that a rape inside of a correctional facility may take. Rape by another inmate, and rape by correctional staff. The fact that an inmate could find the time and opportunity to force themselves on another inmate is hard to understand, even if the idea of a criminal committing a further criminal acts isn’t. The idea that any employee of the correctional institution themselves would rape an inmate is simply inexcusable. When that does occur, the inmate may feel as though they have nowhere to turn to be safe.
The physical effects of rape are well known. Anyone being subjected to rape, inmates included, may suffer tearing of the renal or vaginal area, as well as other physical trauma such as bruising, from the perpetrator forcing themselves on their victim. Seeking treatment for these wounds, although essential, may be difficult for the victim due to the embarrassment of having their intimate parts examined. Affected areas will need to be cleansed thoroughly to prevent infection. Female victims of male perpetrators will have to undergo pregnancy tests.
Obviously, the physical injuries associated with rape are not the only trauma associated with this crime. Victims will have to overcome their embarrassment to report the rape, or else suffer in silence. Not wanting to risk being stigmatized as an easy target, many inmates may not report what has happened to them. In fact, studies suggest a majority of inmate rapes go unreported by the victim. In some instances, the perpetrator will threaten the inmate with future beatings, or with spreading what happened around the cell block, in order to gain the victim’s silence. Corrections officers who have raped inmates may use their position to influence the victim to remain silent, or to engage in sex again, by threatening to make the inmate’s incarceration period more or less difficult.
Depression often follows rape as the victim struggles to understand what happened. They may blame themselves or wonder why the correctional facility staff didn’t protect them. Or, they may feel that they can’t be protected. The inmate may start to think they are in an impossible situation: cut off from the outside world, trapped, with no support from family or friends, and no protection from the correctional facility. Suicide attempts may follow if correctional staff do not closely monitor inmate victims of rape and get them the help they need.
Another concern involving rape in correctional facilities is the spread of diseases. The HIV rate in correctional facilities is four times that of the national average. An inmate infected with HIV can easily transmit the disease to another inmate through an act of rape. Other sexually transmitted diseases abound in institutional correctional settings, such as Hepatitis, Gonorrhea, and Syphillis. At some point, most inmates will be released back into society. Any diseases contracted while incarcerated will follow with them.
Signs to look for in an inmate who has been raped are similar to those in other victims. Withdrawal from social activities. Depression. Open hostility, and a short temper. Mood swings. Loss of appetite. Avoiding a certain person or group of persons. Suddenly keeping to the proximity of any guard or other staff of the facility, in other words, looking for protection. Suicide attempts. And of course, the physical trauma associated with rape.
Society has a vested interest in stopping the crime of inmate rape from occurring. And not just because there is a concern of diseases being spread. The way we as a society treat the most vulnerable among us says everything about who we are. Those people who are being held in our jails and prisons are among the most vulnerable of people, at the mercies of the correctional staff that are supposed to protect them, and the criminal elements incarcerated in the same facilities who may want to do them harm.