As pundits and politicians fill the airwaves with talk of poll numbers and campaign strategies, there’s a genuine epidemic of rape going on in the United States among the most marginalized segment of American society: the nation’s more than 2.3 million incarcerated men, women and children.
According to a new survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, one in 10 people formerly imprisoned in a state cage reported that they were sexually abused during their most recent stint behind bars. LGBT inmates are abused the worst, 39 percent of gay male prisoners telling investigators they were assaulted by their fellow inmates.
But it wasn’t just prisoners who were doing the assaulting, but — can you believe it? — the paid enforcers of state violence who are paid to daily dehumanize the chattel before them. Just Detention International, an organization which seeks to draw attention to the sexual assault of prisoners, notes in a press release that nearly a third of all prisoners “reported staff sexual harassment during showers and searches while undressing — harassment that did not meet the Department of Justice’s threshold for sexual abuse.” Meanwhile, nearly half of those who were sexually abused by DOJ standards and “reported to a corrections official that they had been sexually abused by a staff member were themselves written up for an infraction.” Inmates also reported that they were just as likely to be punished for reporting prisoner-on-prisoner abuse as they were to get the opportunity to speak to an investigator. More than a third said “facility staff did not respond at all.”
“With such blatant retaliation for reporting abuse, it’s no wonder the vast majority of prisoner rape survivors choose to remain silent,” says Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s executive director. The report “reaffirms the crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. detention, and of the government’s utter failure to protect people in its custody.”
If you want evidence of a war on women and other living things, don’t just pay attention to the formal goings-on in state legislatures — look at the prisons and their hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. And keep in mind this depressing thought: that war is condoned by a bipartisan majority of politicians as well as a mainstream culture that thinks prison rape is more material for a stand-up routine than an appalling shock to one’s humanity. The federal standard announced by DOJ to address this epidemic is welcome, but as the survey suggests: it’s all in how the rules are enforced.