Friday, March 23, 2007

Feature: Prisoner Rape and the War on Drugs

DRCNet and Stop Prisoner Rape have just released a report detailing how non-violent drug offenders are at the most risk of becoming a victim of prison rape.

It's a gut wrenching read but one that I strongly encourage you to undertake.

Prisoner Rape and the War on Drugs

Sexual assaults on prisoners is an endemic problem in America, not an isolated one, the war on drugs is making the problem worse, and drug war prisoners are among those most likely to be victimized, according to a report released Thursday. The report, "Stories from Inside: Prisoner Rape and the War on Drugs," by the human rights group Stop Prisoner Rape, calls prisoner rape "a human rights crisis of appalling magnitude."

Hard numbers are hard to come up with for a crime in which humiliation, stigma, the fear of retaliation -- and perhaps officials' fear of embarrassment or lawsuits -- inhibits reporting, but according to preliminary reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is setting up a nationwide, anonymous reporting system, 4% of prisoners reported being sexually assaulted within the last year. According to survey research cited in the report, as many as 20% of male prisoners and 25% of female prisoners have been victims of sexual assault in jail or prison. With a jail and prison population now nearing 2.3 million, the number of victims could be in the hundreds of thousands.

For male prisoners, the most common pattern is sexual assault by other male prisoners. For female prisoners, it is most often sexual assault by guards or other prison staff.

Even the reported numbers may be low, according to some experts. Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist specializing in mental health in prison and especially the mental health of prisoners who have been sexually assaulted, told Drug War Chronicle the numbers may be much higher.
"My estimate is that it is much more widespread than the statistics show," said Kupers, who has published frequently on prison rape and testified as an expert witness on behalf of prison rape victims. "I think the 20% figure is low for a couple of reasons. First, people don't report because they're afraid of the stigma. Men feel it is unmanly and won't admit it. There is also the fear of retaliation in prison, whether from staff or other prisoners. Secondly, a lot of sexual activity is not defined as rape by the participants. A young and fair male enters prison and is told by an older prisoner 'I'm going to have sex with you, and if you agree I won't beat you up and I'll protect you from other prisoners.' The young man agrees and becomes a 'willing' partner, but it's rape, it's coerced out of fear. These guys might say they're not being raped, but they are."

What happened to Chance Martin in 1973 was not pretty, but not unusual. The university-bound Indiana youth was arrested at a hotel party after another guest dropped a piece of hashish in the lobby and thrown into the Lake County Jail in Crown Point. There, he was attacked and sexually assaulted by six other inmates in an unmonitored group cell.


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