FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sentenced to Rape

by Vivian Berger

While male custodians’ exploitation of female inmates has garnered publicity over the years, prisoners’ sexual abuse of other prisoners has generally been a taboo subject. But it attained a higher profile when Human Rights Watch issued a report last year: “No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons.”

Thanks in part to “No Escape,” the climate of indifference may eventually change enough to refute an inmate’s comment that nobody cares what happens to a prisoner. At least these expos?s might shame the people in charge into taking more effective remedial action.

Filled with horrifying letters from victims, the report describes in chilling detail Darwinian correctional institutions, where the strong prey on the weak and officials look the other way or, worse, facilitate oppression. Typically, predators check out the new arrivals and target those who appear vulnerable: the young, the small, first-time offenders, homosexuals or Caucasians. Once raped, the newcomer (dubbed a “turn out” or “punk”) becomes fair game for future assaults by the original assailant or others. Sometimes, he will be “sold” or “rented” to different inmates for sexual services; he may also be forced to perform a variety of menial tasks for his “owners.”

A LITANY OF HARMS

Psychic harms include great loss of self-esteem and serious depression: Raped prisoners are 17 times more likely to attempt suicide than inmates generally. In the words of a 16-year old inmate: “I don’t feel like a human being anymore. I’m a sexually abused animal.” “Punks” also frequently suffer physical injuries from sexual assaults.

Finally, rape propagates sexually transmitted diseases. In the worst-case scenario, the target may become infected with HIV. Kendell Spruce was raped by more than 20 assailants in one year while imprisoned in Arkansas on a fraudulent-check conviction; he ended up contracting AIDS. A misdemeanant, he got, as he noted, a sentence of death.

What is the incidence of these atrocities? Nobody really knows. Many states do not compile specific data on prison rape. Those that do publicize numbers so low that knowledgeable people give them no credit. Recent studies have found that, of 2 million inmates, more than one in five have suffered unwanted sexual conduct; one in 15, an estimated 140,000 according to Human Rights Watch, have been raped. And these shocking statistics may actually understate the problem. Prison officials, fearing lawsuits, have no desire to air their dirty linen in public. Victims remain quiet out of shame or fear of retaliation.

History gives prisoners no reason to believe that complaints will help. Many officials expect them to protect themselves. Investigations are largely perfunctory or nonexistent, with few charges referred for prosecution. Wardens tend to impose slap-on-the-wrist sanctions on perpetrators and often do not even transfer them away from their victims or place them in protective custody. Most prisons furnish scant medical care or counseling.

Guards may use sexual assault or its threat as a means of keeping inmates in line or retaliating against them. A form for a civil rights complaint quotes a unit sergeant as saying: “In a man’s prison, little boys get their asses busted, and your [sic] a fresh 16 and I know your going to get it good. Cause I’m going to help. I know who to put in the cell with you.”

Legal remedies provide too little, too late. Eighth Amendment damages actions compel plaintiffs to surmount the high hurdle of proving that prison administrators were “deliberately indifferent” to their plight. Injunctive suits to remedy prison conditions prospectively now confront new barriers imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996.

As pointed out by Stephen Donaldson, the late president of Stop Rape Now, we cannot afford to return to the community brutalized and enraged prisoners — for “today’s victim is tomorrow’s predator.” If not for reasons of simple humanity and legality, then on grounds of self-protection, society must commit to ending the present appalling situation.

Vivian Berger is professor emerita at Columbia Law School. This article originally appeared in The National Law Journal.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail