Prison rape in the United States

Prison rape in the United States

Prison rape commonly refers to the rape of inmates in prison by other inmates or prison staff.

In 2001, Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 140,000 inmates had been raped while incarcerated. [1] and there is a significant variation in the rates of prison rape by race. Just Detention International (formerly known as Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.) estimate that young men are five times more likely to be attacked, and that the prison rape victims are ten times more likely to contract a deadly disease.

In contrast to these high figures, a meta-analysis published in 2004 found a prevalence rate of 1.91% with a 95% confidence interval between 1.37–2.46%.[2] Applying that 1.91% figure to the nearly 2.3 million inmates currently incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States[3] suggests that raped inmates number 43,800.

According to the study conducted by the United States Department of Justice for the year 2006, there were 2,205 allegations of inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts reported, total, in the U.S. prison system. 262 of the allegations were substantiated.[4]

Prison rape has become a staple of comedy or drama in films and television. Films such as Office Space, Half Baked, and Let's Go to Prison have used it for comedic purposes, while prison drama Oz contained multiple scenes of rape. Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions features a character, Wayne Hoobler, whose prison experience consisted of sexual encounters with other inmates.


Ramifications and statistics

Research has shown that juveniles incarcerated with adults are five times more likely to report being victims of sexual assault than youth in juvenile facilities,[5] and the suicide rate of juveniles in adult jails is 7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers.[6] As states try growing numbers of juveniles as adults, the risk of sexual abuse increases.

In the United States, public awareness of the phenomenon of prison rape is a relatively recent development and estimates to its prevalence have varied widely for decades. In 1974 Carl Weiss and David James Friar wrote that 46 million Americans would one day be incarcerated; of that number, they claimed, 10 million would be raped. A 1992 estimate from the Federal Bureau of Prisons conjectured that between 9 and 20 percent of inmates had been sexually assaulted. Studies in 1982 and 1996 both concluded that the rate was somewhere between 12 and 14 percent; the 1996 study, by Cindy Struckman-Johnson, concluded that 18 percent of assaults were carried out by prison staff. A 1986 study by Daniel Lockwood put the number at around 23 percent for maximum security prisons in New York. Christine Saum's 1994 survey of 101 inmates showed 5 had been sexually assaulted.[7] Among women the number is one in forty and the offenders are more likely to be prison staff members.

Prison rape cases have drastically risen in recent years, mostly attributed to an increase in counseling and reports. The threat of AIDS, which affects many of those raped in prison, has also resulted in the increase of reported cases for the benefit of medical assistance.

Prison rape and sexuality

In prison rape, the perpetrator and victim are almost always the same sex (due to the gender-segregated nature of prison confinement). As such, a host of issues regarding sexual orientation and gender roles are associated with the topic.

In U.S. male prisons, rapists generally identify themselves as heterosexual and confine themselves to non-receptive sexual acts. Victims, commonly referred to as "punks" or "bitches", may or may not be seen as homosexual. "Punks" is a term for those who are generally confined to performing receptive sexual acts. Moreover, though "punks" are coerced into a sexual arrangement with an aggressor in exchange for protection, these men generally consider themselves heterosexual.

Inmates who are transgender face further difficulties, and Just Detention International asserts that such inmates are almost certain to be sexually assaulted in prison. Some prisons separate known homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people from the general prison population to prevent rape and violence against them.[citation needed] Not surprisingly, many heterosexuals identify themselves to authorities as homosexuals so that they will be sent to the 'gay tank' where they will be protected from homosexual rape.[original research?] There are, however, other methods to get oneself segregated from population, such as rule infractions or feigned suicide attempts. Other inmates have resorted to killing their rapist (or probable future rapist), particularly those who already have long sentences and are thus virtually immune from further legal consequences.

Shame regarding perceived homosexuality may contribute to the under-reporting of prison rape by victims. Prison rape statistics are much higher than reported, as many victims are afraid to report, being threatened with physical violence by rapists if reported, as well as staff indifference.

Federal Law Public Law 108-79 was passed in the United States in 2003. According to Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.,

The bill calls for the gathering of national statistics about the problem; the development of guidelines for states about how to address prisoner rape; the creation of a review panel to hold annual hearings; and the provision of grants to states to combat the problem. "Unfortunately, in many facilities throughout the country sexual abuse continues virtually unchecked," said Stemple. "Too often, corrections officers turn a blind eye, or in the case of women inmates, actually perpetrate the abuse. We hope federal legislation will not only create incentives for states to take this problem seriously, but also give facilities the tools and information they need to prevent it."


Many human rights groups, such as the Human Rights Watch and Stop Prisoner Rape, have cited documented incidents showing that prison staff tolerate rape as a means of controlling the prison population in general.

The topic of prison rape is relatively common in American humor. Jokes such as "don't drop the soap" seem to suggest that prison rape is an expected (or acceptable) consequence of being sent to prison. This phenomenon is exemplified by the 2006 U.S. feature film Let's Go to Prison or the board game Don't Drop the Soap being marketed by John Sebelius, the son of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.[9] Songs have also been composed about the topic, e.g. the song "Prisoner of Love" by radio personalities Bob and Tom, performing as "Slam and Dave". By contrast, prison rape is not a stock topic of jokes in most other Western cultures.[citation needed]

U.S. Federal law, under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, calls for the compilation of national prison rape statistics, annual hearings by a review panel, and the provision of grants to the states to address prison rape. A first, highly-controversial and disputed study, funded under the PREA by Mark Fleisher, concludes prison rape is rare: "Prison rape worldview doesn't interpret sexual pressure as coercion," he wrote. "Rather, sexual pressure ushers, guides or shepherds the process of sexual awakening." [10]

In 2007, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Khalid el-Masri, who had accused the CIA of torture, including 'forced anal penetration', due to state secrets privilege.[11][12]

In pop culture

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the idea of prison rape became an important part of popular depictions of American prison life. Some prominent examples include:

  • The song "Date Rape" by the band Sublime narrates a rapist who is eventually sent to prison and is himself raped.
  • The film Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects ends with the leader of a teenage prostitution ring going to prison and being put into a cell with a tough, burly inmate who makes sexual advances toward him. The scene very strongly indicates that the new inmate will be raped. The cop who puts the criminal in jail refers to this as "poetic justice".
  • The film Shawshank Redemption, based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King has the main character, a man wrongfully imprisoned for murder, is repeatedly sexually assaulted by a gang of predatory inmates known as "The Sisters."
  • The film American History X, follows the main character into prison in Chino, where he eventually separates from his Aryan Brotherhood prison gang and is raped for doing so.
  • The television show Oz, produced by Tom Fontana, dealt with a number of consensual and nonconsensual relationships between male inmates. The ostensible lead of the show, Tobias Beecher, is raped in the first episode by Vern Schillinger, the sadistic head of the prison's Aryan gang, and is turned into a sexual slave. When Beecher eventually takes his revenge, the conflict between him and Schillinger sets the stage for much of the action of the next several years.
  • An example of prison rape also appears in film Midnight Express.
  • On the American soap opera, General Hospital, the character Michael Corinthos III (played by Chad Duell) is raped by another inmate named Carter in May 2010.
  • The TV Series The Boondocks has explored prison rape as a running gag involving the character Tom DuBois and later highlighted the issue, in a comical sense, in the 2010 Episode, Date with the Booty Warrior.

Notable victims

See also


  1. ^ Mariner, Joanne (2001). "No Escape - Male Rape in U.S. Prisons". Human Rights Watch. pp. I. Summary and Recommendations. Retrieved 2007-11-30. 
  2. ^ Gerald G. Gaes ; Andrew L. Goldberg: Prison Rape: A Critical Review of the Literature, Executive Summary. 2004
  3. ^ Key Facts at a Glance Correctional populations Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  4. ^ Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2006
  5. ^ Martin Forst et al., Youth in Prisons and Training Schools: Perceptions and Consequences of the Treatment-Custody Dichotomy, 2 Juv. & Fam. Ct. J. 9 (1989).
  6. ^ SPR factsheet
  7. ^ Peek, Christine (2003). "Breaking Out of the Prison Hierarchy: Transgendered Prisoners, Rape, and the Eighth Amendment" ([dead link]Scholar search). Santa Clara Law Review (Santa Clara University School of Law) 44 ((Entire Paragraph citation)): 1211–48. ISSN 0146-0315. OCLC 2842601. Archived from the original on July 19, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  8. ^ "Federal Legislation Introduced to Curb Prisoner Rape" (Press release). Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.. 2002-06-12. Retrieved 2007-11-30. 
  9. ^ [1] retrieved 04 February 2008.
  10. ^ Curtis, Kim (2006-01-17). "A disputed study claims rape is rare in prison". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  11. ^ [ ACLU petition, 2006]
  12. ^


  • [2] "No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons," Human Rights Watch, accessed 20 Aug 2006.
  • [3] "The Basics on Rape Behind Bars," Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc., accessed 20 Aug 2006.
  • [4] Alex Coolman, "Trivializing Prison Rape," CounterPunch, August 1, 2003.
  • [5] Steve J.B., "Prison Bitch," CounterPunch, August 1, 2003.
  • [6] Joanne Mariner, "Preventing Prison Rape,, June 24, 2002.
  • Martin Forst et al., Youth in Prisons and Training Schools: Perceptions and Consequences of the Treatment-Custody Dichotomy, 2 Juv. & Fam. Ct. J. 9 (1989).

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