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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail