According to an article in Salon, “Hundreds of teen-agers are raped or sexually assaulted during their stays in the country’s juvenile detention facilities, and many of them are victimized repeatedly.”
This insight comes by way of a recent United States Justice Department survey, which involved over 8,000 adjudicated youth in both group homes and in secure juvenile detention facilities all across the country. According to the survey’s findings, 1,720 teens (or an estimated 9.5 percent) reported being sexually assaulted by either another youth or facility staff member within the past 12 months. Most shocking, the highest rate of reported incidences occurred at the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Georgia and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio, where one in three teens reported sexual abuse by the hands of staff members. Among the other findings of the report, it was revealed that while male youth were more likely than female youth to report sexual victimization with facility staff, female youth were more likely to report forced sexual activity with another adjudicated youth. Also, white youth reported sexual victimization at the hands of another youth at a rate higher than their black and Hispanic counterparts. However, black youth reported a higher rate of sexual victimization by facility staff than white youth or Hispanic youth.
This report comes on the heels of another article I read in Gawker about a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, who allege poor and dangerous living conditions, including prisoners living under the constant threat of sexual assault. The article also includes a handwritten letter from a victim of prison rape, who describes in great detail being sexually assaulted by several gang members that held him captive for hours. His attack resulted in severe facial and rectum injuries. Writes the unidentified inmate, who came to prison by way of a parole violation for shoplifting:
“All I could do was cry because I knew that one false move and I knew this man would take my life. After being the victim of rape by another man, I am suffering still from anxiety, depression and stress issues because of this attack. …
…Due to this tragic incident that happened to me all I want to do is speak out to others that are suffering from what I went through on Feb 23rd 2013 and let them know it’s okay to speak out and tell someone because no one should be violated of their sexual personal space.”
I agree that no one should be violated, even a convicted prisoner. And stories like this are the reason why I do not find anything remotely humorous about prison rape. According to the group, Just Detention International, a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse within the prison system, more than 200,000 adults and youth are raped behind bars each year – and that is just those who report it. Matter of fact, you should probably go over to the website, Stop Prison Rape, and check out the vast collection of survivor stories from other current and former inmates who have been sexually assaulted. Be warned, it is not the funny anecdotal stories about Bubba, the booty-snatching cellmate folks are used to telling in jest. But then again, real life tales of rape never are.
The purpose of prison is supposed to be rehabilitation, however, we all know that it stopped being that long ago – if it ever was. Most folks want those who are guilty of crimes to pay their debt to society and the people for whom they have wronged. And they don’t care how. However, sexual assault should never be viewed as a punishment. It is a crime. It’s a violent crime. And even more specifically, it is a violent crime, which people do go to jail for a very long time for. If we condone or even make light of these crimes, how can we ever claim the moral high ground?