Note: The block quotes are statements made by prisoners and former prisoners. All were taken from the Human Rights Watch website, where they are listed with initials, but no names, unless a different source is specifically stated.
Rape. It is a horrible word, bringing to mind images of dirty men attacking women, violating them in horrific ways. Estimates are that there are 135,000 rapes occuring every year in the United States, and many people believe there's more.
However, every year, the number of male prisoners sexually assaulted in prisons in the United States is estimated to be as high as 290,000 - and groups like Stop Prison Rape put the number as high as 600,000 a year. Estimates are used because so few victims are willing to report the rape - due to the inaction of the prison officials, and the retribution from other prisoners. Also, the Federal Bureau of Prisons lumps all assults together - they keep no seperate record of sexual assaults.
Male prisoners are routinely subject to abuse and rape, often with the knowledge of the prison guards - and sometimes even the cooperation. Abuse among fellow female prisoners is rare - rape in women's prisons is almost always by male guards, which is taken much more seriously. It's become so ingrained in society's psyche in the United States that people routinely joke about it, and hardly anyone seems to give any indication that what's being done to these prisoners is somehow wrong. With the increasing movement to "get tough on crime", attempts to improve the conditions for prisoners seems ill-fated.
I was too embarrassed to tell the [corrections officers] what had happened [that I had been raped] . . . . The government acts as if a "man" is supposed to come right out and boldly say "I've been raped." You know that if it is degrading for a woman, how much more for a man.
Prison rape occurs for three main reasons. First, it's a badge of power and strength to the man doing the raping. By forcing himself upon another prisoner, he's showing himself to be dominant to that person. When a prisoner commits a rape, it increases their status among other prisoners. Second, it's a way to satisfy sexual desires. The majority of men committing rape in prison are not gay. They are not attracted to the men they rape, it's done just because that's really their only release. In fact, the prisoners who are raped are often referred to as 'women', or as a 'wife' of someone, to get around the possible stigma. Third, it's used by prison officials to control behavior.
It doesn't take much to become a victim in prison. If a prisoner is not affiliated with a gang, if they don't belong to the dominant ethnic group, if they haven't befriended people that can protect them, they're an open target. Men who are slightly more feminine - longer hair, a smaller build, are very attractive targets, and almost guaranteed to be victims. And known homosexuals are three times more likely to be raped than anyone else. As one prisoner observed, "Most guys raped are guys for there first time locked up, between the ages 18-30 that looks young, not strong, looks lonely, scared. Guys watch these things."
Occasionally a prison will have a special section, intended to house prisoners who, for some reason or another, are more likely to be targets, whether being weak from a medical condition, or having an attribute that will make them a clear target. The idea is that these inmates will be separated from the rest of the inmates, preventing them from being assaulted from the general population. However, even when the prison has this section, it may not truly mean anything.
Safe keeping is a wing where supposely inmates who are week and cant stand up for them selves are put. But its not too friendly because its easy to get on and that is where they put homo/bi/trans/sexuals. So a lot of hard core convicts want to go over and sometimes they do make it. If you ask any guard the close custody safe keeping wing is more violent than the regular one is.
Youthful offenders sentenced as adults are almost guaranteed to be the victim of rape, quickly and frequently. While they often start out in special custody due to their age, at some point they will be released into the general population, and the age this occurs can vary. The other inmates are quite aware of what's going on when the youth comes into the prison. As one person described it in Nebraska,
The kids I know of here are kept in the hospital part of the prison until they turn 16. Then they are placed in general population. . . . At age 16, they are just thrown to the wolves, so to speak, in population. I have not heard of one making it more than a week in population without being "laid."
Resisting a rape is often futile. Because the guards are often complicit in the process, resisting usually means injuring the attacker to a point they can't continue the assault. However, this is at best a temporary solution - a prisoner will not forget such an attack, and will make even more effort to assault the person in the future. And when the attacker is a cellmate, which occurs quite often, usually the only resistance possible is to kill the attacker. Jack Henry Abbot, a convict and a writer, described his experience doing just this in "In the Belly of the Beast"
"I was even told by the pigs who transported me to prison that I was being sent there to be reduced to a punk, to be shorn of my manhood. They felt I would be less arrogant once I had been turned into a cocksucker ... Before I was twenty-one years old I had killed one of the prisoners and wounded another. I never did get out of prison. I never was a punk."
It is very common, once a prisoner is raped, for them to submit to their rapist, and become their 'wife', their 'bitch' as it is called. The rapist is known as the 'husband'. Belonging to a 'husband' in this manner guarantees the victim a protector, someone who will help to prevent other people from attacking and raping them. In return, the 'wife' will perform sexual favors on command, and do cleaning and menial work. As one prisoner notes,
I had no choice but to submit to being Inmate B's prison wife. Out of fear for my life, I submitted to sucking his dick, being fucked in my ass, and performing other duties as a woman, such as making his bed. In all reality, I was his slave, as the Officials of the Arkansas Department of Corrections under the 'color of law' did absolutely nothing
Of course, being someone's 'wife' is often not all that much protection. Many prisoners with a 'wife' use that person like a pimp uses his girls. He'll rent or sell them to other people in the prison, often for little more than a carton of cigarettes, or other small amounts. And once a prisoner is 'sold' to another, they gain a reputation, and it happens more and more, and the prisoner loses even more control of their destiny. Of course, the prison guards are also tuned in to the gossip, and assume the prisoner is willingly being used for sex, regardless of what they actually say.
I was "rented out" for sexual favors, and a lot of the guys who rented me are not rapists, or assaulted as children, or any other stereotypical model. They just wanted some sexual satisfaction, even though they knew I was not deriving pleasure from it, and was there only because I was forced to. . . . I was with the Valluco (Valley) crowd, so I was only passed around to them for free. D. Town Hispanics had to pay. They were charged $3 for a blow-job, $5 for anal sex.
The prison guards are often passive, or even active participants in these situations. They are completely aware of what goes on, yet they make no effort to stop it. Guards will often laugh at prisoners who make the claims, blaming them in the process for either inviting it, or in actuality wanting it to happen. They'll sit and watch, not stepping in until after everything has occured, and writing up both parties involved, regardless of how obvious it may be the victim was unwilling.
The most horrific part is when the guards get actively involved in prison rape. It's known which inmates commonly rape others, not just among the prisoners, but among all the guards. They use this knowledge to make their jobs easier. First, by putting a new inmate with a strong spirit in the cell with a rapist, they can get their spirit broken, making them much easier to handle. Second, by supplying the larger, more violent inmates with a steady stream of "fresh fish", they can keep them from becoming violent and unruly. It beomces a two-way exchange, as the guards help the inmate, the inmate helps the guards.
[I] was sent to the orientation block to be cellmate with another prisoner already occupying a double cell. I did not know at the time that I was to share a double cell with him, that he was a known rapist in the prison . . . . I must point out that only a month and a half prior, he was accused of raping another man. On my fourth day of sharing the cell, I was ambushed and viciously raped by him. After being raped, I remained in shock and paralized in thought for two days until I was able to muster the courage to report it, this, the most dreadful and horrifying experience of my life.
Another person states,
Prison rapes occur for a number of reasons. One such reason is the insecure, weak inmate preying on another weaker inmate, to make an impression of toughness or ruthlessness that he hopes will discourage other inmates from doing the same thing to him . . . . The main reason why sexual assaults occur is because prison officials and staff promote them. It's their method of sacrificing the weak inmates to achieve and maintain control of the stronger aggressive or violent inmates.
When rapes do get reported, prison officials are not very helpful and sympathetic to the victim. The victims are commonly called liars, and accused of making up the story to get attention, or just to get back at someone. Even if they are accepted as truth, the rapist will usually get little more than a slap on the wrist. In the process, the person reporting the rape will become known as a "snitch", and suffer even more. Pleas for protective custody are often met with sneers by officials. According to a statement made in the legal papers of one inmate,
Defendant J.M, a security officer with the rank of sargeant, came to investigate the series of latest allegations. Defendant J.M. refused to interview the inmate witnesses and told plaintiff that he was lying about being sexually abused. After plaintiff vehemently protested that he was being truthful, defendant J.M. made comments that plaintiff "must be gay" for "letting them make you suck dick."
Because of the lack of concern and assistance by prison officials, inmates that are being victimized will often do anything they can to be put anywhere where they will be safe. Inmates often will break prison rules because the "punishment" will put them into areas where they will be safe, where their attackers cannot get to them. There have been inmates who have spent years in near isloation, just to get away, only to eventually be put back into the population and raped. One must wonder if some of the inmates that are truly disobedient and troublesome are doing it just in an attempt to be moved to super-max prisons, where there is little to no contact between inmates. Which is worse? The longer sentence, or suffering rape?
Recently, it's become an even bigger problem - due to HIV and AIDS. No longer is prison rape just a painful and demeaning experience. It can be deadly. People sent to prison for just a year or two can find themselves receiving a death sentence after being infected through a rape. One person from a Massachusetts prison put it, "Nowhere in the book of rules was it written that I got to be here to get raped, that I have to have them destroy my mind, that I am supposed to get AIDS."
Some have attempted to justify the rape as another deterrent to commiting future crimes. The idea is that the suffering they go through will stick with them, and they'll detest it and fear it enough to commit no future crimes. However, it does not have this effect. Rape is traumatic, and people react to trauma in different ways, and often not in good ways. The rape causes a buildup of rage, of anger, of feelings of worthlessness inside of the victims, feelings that grow as the abuse continues, and as they're unable to tell anyone.
People abused in prison often show signs of self-destruction and/or violent tendencies, even when they were completely different people before. Stories abound about people convicted of relatively minor offenses, such as petty theft, underage drinking, or small drug charges, who were more or less nice people, who come out with intense hatreds, often of gays. They become withdrawn, unable to be around happy people, and often turn to substance abuse to try and cover and help them forget about their suffering. The famous T.E. Lawrence, who was almost certainly raped in a Turkish Prison, ended up living in isolation, full of depression, dying in an accident many people consider suicide.
The violence and rage may also be taken out on others. Evidence is that someone raped in prison is more likely to commit a violent crime than a person who was not. John William King, one of the people involved in the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998, had spent 21 months in prison for burglary. In prison, being a rather small guy at 5 foot 7, 140 pounds, was quickly attacked and raped - by black inmates. He did not go into prison with the hate he had when he emerged, and an innocent victim suffered because of it.
In 1994, the Supreme Court heard the case of Farmer vs. Brennan. Dee Farmer, a pre-operative transsexual, was serving time for credit card fraud. She was moved from a lower security correctional facility to a men's penitentiary, and not even placed in special custody, even though the results would be obvious. In a very short time she was repeatedly attacked and gang raped. The Court heard the case, and decided that prison officials are, in fact, responsible for protecting inmates against sexual predators.
This has caused many prisons to deny that rape occurs, and to do whatever methods are deemed necessary to keep up this facade. One example was the Utah prison system. Officials maintained that there had never been any rapes, whatsoever, in their prisons. This claim was made even with detailed trial transcripts of a convict sentenced to 15 years for raping a fellow prisoner, and many more documented cases along with that one.
It is impossible to really explain the extent of the problem here. There is just too much information, too many cases, to give more than a cursory treatment. For more information, the Human Rights Watch website (listed below in the sources) has available a 398-page report on prison rape, titled "No Escape - Male Rape in U.S. Prisons".
Human Rights Watch - No Escape - Male Rape in U.S. Prisons, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/prison/
The Rape Crisis Behind Bars, http://www.vix.com/men/abuse/usa-prison.html
Prison Rape: The Graylon Bell Case, http://www.vix.com/men/abuse/prisonrape/bell.html
Salon.com - Rape As a Disciplinary Tactic, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/08/23/prisons/index.html
Now for my own thoughts, which I wanted to keep out of the body of text.
This is revolting and repulsive. How can we, as a society, not only tolerate, but promote, and make jokes about, such cruelty performed regularly upon other human beings? We would never allow the courts to sentence a criminal to suffering rape, as that would definitely fall into the range of cruel and unusual punishment. But we let people get sent to prison knowing full well that it is exactly what is happening.
It seems that every prison guard and official with knowledge of these occurences, who either ignore them, or actively promote them, are just as much criminals as the people they're watching over. Every single one of them should be on the other side of the bars. But I must wonder what it would take to change the situation - the Stanford Prison experiment makes me wonder if these situations are almost inevitable given the types of people and the environment they're in.
People often talk about how criminals must have it so "cushy" when it's shown the have access to education, to entertainment, and the like. They say they're there for punishment, and shouldn't have such things. I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. They could be feeding them caviar, having them be read to every evening by famous actors, and given nightly massages - and they'd still have it worse if they have to deal with this. I know I wouldn't take any of that to be put into a situation where I was forcibly and viciously raped on a regular basis. They're being treated like animals, so they're acting like animals, and things are too good for them?
It is barbaric what happens, and it's time to remember that the people in prison are human beings.