TRAINING AMERICANS TO RAPE
The Role of our Jails, Prisons, and Reformatories
Robert W. Dumond,
Fay Honey Knopp,
Cindy Struckman-Johnson, and
printed as by Stephen Donaldson (Original text of article in May, 1995 USA Today magazine; printed as "Can We Put an End to Inmate Rape"?)
The valiant fight against the scourge of rape in our communities is doomed to failure, and will remain an exercise in futility, as long as it ignores America's vast network of training schools for rapists: our jails, prisons, and reform schools.
We have long turned a blind eye to these institutions, now holding 1.4 million males and jailing some 4 million men in the course of a year (all population figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Justice Dept.). In this American gulag, rape is an institutionalized tradition, considered by prisoners a legitimate way to "prove your manhood" and satisfy sexual and power needs. Most of these men and boys return to our streets with such attitudes, many of them having become rapists while locked up.
The precise number of sexually assaulted prisoners is unknown, but rough estimates can be derived by extrapolating previous surveys of a jail system (by Philadelphia District Attorney Alan J. Davis, 1968) and of a medium-security prison (by Prof. Wayne S. Wooden and Jay Parker, 1982, their data confirmed by a still unpublished 1994 survey of an entire state prison system) to conservatively estimate that nationally over 300,000 males are sexually assaulted behind bars every year. This compares with a 1992 BJS estimate, based on a (still underreporting) annual household victimization survey, of 135,000 female rapes a year outside confinement.
By all accounts, the situation is even worse in juvenile detention centers, but as yet noone has published a statistical survey of rape in reform schools.
Once victimized, a prisoner is marked as a continual target for sexual exploitation and is repeatedly subjected to gang-rapes, or must trade sexual use by one or a few men for protection from the remainder. Thus the repetition of unwanted sex is very high: we estimate that over 60,000 prisoners are subjected to involuntary sex every day. Very few of these rapes (only 3.2 % of the ones Davis' investigators uncovered!) are ever reported to administrators, much less prosecuted.
Who Gets Raped?
The victims are usually the youngest, the smallest, the non-violent, the first-timers, and those with less serious charges. If a prisoner is middle-class, not "streetwise," not gang-affiliated, not part of the racial or ethnic group which dominates his institution, lacks fighting expertise, or is held in a big-city jail, he is more likely to be a target. The victims are generally heterosexuals who are forced into a passive sexual role, though the relatively few known homosexuals behind bars are three times as likely to be raped. (The assailants are almost always heterosexual in identity, preference, and practice outside confinement; thus the widely-used phrase "homosexual rape" in the context of confinement is extremely misleading and libels homosexuals.) The more of these victim characteristics that apply, the more likely the prisoner will be targeted. Rape among female prisoners is unusual but not unknown; females are far more likely to be sexually abused by keepers.
The catastrophic experience of violent penetration, unimaginably devastating to the typical heterosexual male, usually extends beyond a single incident, often becoming a daily demolition of personhood. It tends to transform those victims who remain psychologically untreated (which is almost all of them) into capsules of pent-up rage, which can produce violence once they return to the community. Some of these victims (how many is unknown, since no follow-up studies have been published) will become rapists themselves, seeking to regain their manhood through the same violent means by which they have been led to believe it was lost. Other released victims look for revenge on society, which they see as sponsor of the institution in which their sense of self was cataclysmically demolished and they may have been infected with HIV. Numerous studies have shown that sexual abusers in the community are very likely to have themselves once been victims of sexual abuse, most commonly as boys;
there is no reason to think this dynamic does not apply to prisoners.
Even an attempted sexual attack which is warded off-a typical experience for a fresh fish or new prisoner-can cause severe trauma and enormous increases in stress, defensiveness, and violent reactions, as well as being one of the chief sources of combat injury behind bars. In this way our penal and detention institutions unwittingly inaugurate a truly vicious cycle, turning non-violent detainees and minor offenders into far more serious dangers to the community-exactly the opposite of what our correctional institutions are supposed to do!
Why Nothing Has Been Done
While this pattern of abuse has been documented in America since at least 1826 (when the Rev. Louis Dwight of Boston wrote that (Nature and humanity cry aloud for redemption from this dreadful degradation), and its widespread existence has been privately conceded by virtually everyone knowledgeable about confinement, little has been done to stop it. Even after Davis made headlines with his 1968 report on the massive rape problem in the Philadelphia jails, a report which included information on the demographic characteristics of victims and rapists and the reasons why almost none of these rapes were officially reported, nothing was done. Newspapers in 1973 cited John Dean's fear of prison rape as motivation for his agreement to cooperate with Watergate prosecutors, and the same year Washington was shocked at the highly publicized gang-rape of a Quaker antiwar protester in jail on $10 bail, but nothing was done. The next year two journalists, Carl Weiss and David J. Friar, published a book-length expos?Terror in the Prisons, but nothing was done. Connecticut reform-school psychologist Anthony M. Scacco, Jr. published a serious book, Rape in Prison, in 1975, but nothing was done. In 1979 a black prisoner named Russell D. Smith founded People Organized to Stop Rape of Imprisoned Persons (now Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.) and established chapters inside several Midwest prisons, but Smith mysteriously vanished in 1983, and nothing was done. Wayne Wooden and Jay Parker published their extensive findings on sexual exploitation in a California prison in the book Men Behind Bars in 1982, the same year Scacco published his anthology of articles, Male Rape. Still, nothing was done. Smith's successors as head of POSRIP, Tom Cahill and Stephen Donaldson, tried hard to get someone to listen, but with very few exceptions (notably an NBC News documentary in August 1986), nobody responded.
Although the damning facts were all in print and known to penologists, officials unanimously claimed "it may be a problem elsewhere, but not in our well-run system."
Prisoner victims were and still are ignored in all official rape statistics (governments are not eager to report on horrors committed under their care and responsibility) as well as in unofficial estimates by victim advocates, who have generally been disinclined to recognize the existence of male victims. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics has been particularly resistant (perhaps because it is an arm of the Justice Department, which also includes the federal prison system) to including prisoners among the subjects of its crime victimization surveys, even though it is now clear that most of the nation's rapes take place behind bars. And with no government or victim center figures to report, and no questions asked, the news media have perpetuated the idea that only women are raped.
A major reason is that the rape of any male has long been a taboo subject for public discussion, surrounded by numerous popular myths involving issues of manhood, vulnerability, humiliation, and homophobia, all of which prevent examination of the subject and frighten victims away from acknowledging rape or asking for help.
Traditional legal concepts of rape as gender-specific-as well as now outdated concepts that rape is a woman's issue and men always the oppressive enemy, never the fellow victim-have obscured the reality that this crime of violence can be inflicted on men as well as women. Such views, now largely abandoned by rape counselors and clinicians, still influence the actions, and even more the rhetoric, of too many rape and victim activists, who in pamphlets, public statements, and articles still refer to victims only as women. This picture still dominates the mass media.
The men's movement has also remained silent and generally unaware of the problem. Even the men (mostly therapists and survivors) who have recently built a national male survivor's movement to promote treatment for adult survivors of boyhood sexual abuse have generally ignored men raped as adults.
This general silence on the vast extent of sexual victimization of adult males blocks the development of programs to acknowledge and help treat these survivors, and thus promotes the vicious cycle which produces further assaults on women and men. It is an irrational and self-defeating taboo.
Efforts to deal with rape in confinement meet additional obstacles. In the words of Vermont Commissioner of Corrections John F. Gorczyk, society reacts with a combination of fear, disgust, and denial. Common if unarticulated views include don't tell me, I don't want to know and they get what they deserve. Behind these attitudes are images of violent criminals reaping what they have sown, but in reality it is they who are doing the raping and the nonviolent who are being raped. Some see the threat of jailhouse rape as a valid deterrant to crime. Yet none of these attitudes will withstand public scrutiny. While there are some concerned corrections professionals who would like to deal with the problem, most usually prefer to simply ignore the systemic nature of the problem, considered a public relations embarassment, rather than realistically acknowledge and deal with what has become a life-and-death issue in the age of AIDS.
First Steps Towards Change
The public and the media, however, are finally becoming more sensitive to questions of sexual abuse and more willing to break through old taboos surrounding issues of sex and of violence.
Media coverage is slowly rising, with a December 1973 Op-Ed piece in The New York Times leading to notable 1994 articles by the Los Angeles Times and a lengthy investigative series by the Boston Globe, which is hoping for a Pulitzer in the wake of an expos?hich shook up the governor and led to Massachusetts legislative hearings on May 23, the first in the nation on prison rape. CNN and the Court News cable networks have run stories, but the national broadcast media have stayed away.
A statewide poll of Massachusetts voters taken by the Globe in May 1994 found 63% of the public concerned about prison rape, 78% in favor of state efforts to prevent it, and 73% in favor of condom distribution in the prisons.
A new approach to prisoner rape is represented by the Prisoner Rape Education Project, a pioneering team effort by survivors and professionals, published in August 1993 by the Safer Society project of the New York State Council of Churches with a strong foreword by Commissioner Gorczyk. This is the first work to provide practical information and advice to prisoners and staff on avoidance and survival, and it consists of two audio tapes designed for prisoner audiences and a manual for staff.
The PREP manual outlines numerous areas where changes in administrative policy and practice would help counter sexual assault and assist the largely neglected victims, for whom rape becomes a daily problem.
One strong recommendation urges that condoms (still contraband in most systems, including the federal prisons, a life-or-death public health issue Surgeon-General Elders continues to ignore) be made available to rape survivors who have paired off with stronger prisoners for their own protection, as most of them do, so that these victims can avoid turning survival-driven sex from a degrading necessity into an extremely expensive death penalty for a nonviolent offense.
The Supreme Court Finally Speaks
The courts are finally, if reluctantly, waking up and unevenly prodding wardens and sheriffs to protect their charges against what has become a potentially lethal injury. A federal court of appeals (11th Circuit) in July 1993 affirmed a staff-wide prison training program on rape, the first of its kind, ordered by Florida district court Judge James C. Paine, who found in 1990 in LaMarca v. Turner that rape is one of the most degrading events, short of death, that can occur in prison.
Even more significant was the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision (written by Justice David Souter) of June 6, 1994 in Farmer v. Brennan, reinstating a prisoner's claim for money damages from prison officials for failure to protect from prison rape. The Eighth Amendment civil rights suit, which Dee Farmer brought to the Supreme Court without help from any lawyer, had been dismissed by lower courts. The national organization Stop Prisoner Rape filed a friend of the court brief in the case, "which," according to an analysis in Prison Legal News, the Supreme Court appears to have relied on" and "gave an excellent view of the problem.
The Court's decision was a complex one with regard to suits for money damages, but went out of its way to encourage prisoners to sue for court-ordered changes in official policies and practices which contribute to the danger of sexual assault behind bars. In what Corrections Forum termed a landmark ruling, the Court said the government and its officials are not free to let the state of nature take its course....Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not part of the penalty.
Retiring Justice Blackmun spoke eloquently in a concurring opinion that the decision "sends a clear message to prison officials that their affirmative duty under the Constitution to provide for the safety of inmates is not to be taken lightly." Calling the system of institutionalized rape nothing less than torture, Blackmun wrote:
The horrors experienced by many young inmates, particularly those who, like [Farmer], are convicted of nonviolent offenses, border on the unimaginable. Prison rape not only threatens the lives of those who fall prey to their aggressors, but is potentially devastating to the human spirit. Shame, depression, and a shattering loss of self-esteem, accompany the perpetual terror the victim thereafter must endure.
Unfortunately, the legal profession has been reluctant to respond to pleas from victimized prisoners for assistance with such suits, even where the evidence makes for a compelling case; despite Farmer's success, without legal help few prisoners can even get a hearing in a court, much less justice. Even organizations set up to provide legal help for prisoners have failed to respond. Massachusetts Prisoners Legal Services, which ought to be concerned about the well-documented rape crisis in that state, refuses to bring litigation under Farmer against prison officials to improve the situation, giving the astonishing reason that such efforts would involve us in a conflict of interest, prisoners against prisoners. Other prisoner-assistance groups find the topic too uncomfortable personally, or perhaps feel it is bad public relations to discuss the horrors inflicted by prisoners while officials look away. Thus their own indifference matches that of the keepers.
And there are all too many cases like that of Bobby Lusk, awaiting execution in Florida for killing another prisoner, who had raped him two days earlier and promised to do it again. None of the lawyers involved in his trial, sentencing, or years of appeals at state and federal level ever bothered to mention that he was reacting to and defending himself against rape! Essentially, Lusk is to die for refusing to accept the label of punk and its inevitable further sexual abuse and for exhausting his appeals with court-appointed lawyers too squeamish to discuss the facts that would have saved his life.
Unto the Fourth Generation
The catastrophic psychological, medical, and criminogenic effects of Rape Trauma Syndrome on the victims already in our midst will continue to reverberate through our society for generations. But the problem is getting worse, not better. Every year, a starkly increasing number of non-violent offenders is being locked up and subjected to rape. Ever-lengthening prison terms has meant that convicts who used to feel they could forego sex for a few years now feel that with womanless decades ahead of them, they might as well give high priority to finding themselves a punk. The widespread popular association of AIDS with homosexuals has put a greater premium on heterosexual anal virgins as preferred sex objects for horny convicts, and these can only be obtained through rape. More and more of those infected with HIV in this way will get sick with AIDS and add to the public expense as well as the private burden; once released, they will also spread the virus still further.
Stop Prisoner Rape, incorporated as a charitable organization, is growing and beginning to make itself felt, but is still too poor to have a single paid staff member or its own office, and its primary service clientele has no funds to contribute, while foundations and corporations remain reluctant to get involved. Lacking wealthy donors, the ability of the group to stimulate change will remain severely constricted.
What Needs to be Done
When will this outrage-which no legislature and no judge has declared a penalty for crime, inability to make bail, or even juvenile status offenses like truancy-finally meet with determined efforts to curb it, and to intervene with counseling and care before its victims become victimizers in turn, this time on our streets?
--Not until the public, the ultimate jailor, turns its averted eyes back to those walls, which were built and are maintained at enormous expense by taxpayers in order to promote the public safety, not to facilitate rape and to spread the notion that rape is a way to prove your manhood.
--Not until the institutions take realistic steps to counter this horror and to really help its victims-efforts which the public, the courts, and elected officials must demand.
--Not until lawyers agree to fight for the victims in court.
--Not until elected officials are asked why they tolerate such practices in the institutions they supervise.
--Not until all staff members are trained to deal realistically with prisoner rape and until effective proactive, preemptive measures and sympathetic responses to victims become criteria by which the professionalism of the staff is judged.
--Not until new prisoners are given factual practical advice on how to avoid rape rather than receiving unrealistic and often very dangerous suggestions to turn informer after the fact.
--Not until survivors are given better options than suicide, more violence, or much more harshly punitive confinement conditions under the guise of protective custody.
--Not until realistic classification systems based on the already well-known demographic characteristics of victims are worked out to separate vulnerable sexual targets from their predators.
--Not until prisoners, with the quiet support of administrators, organize themselves and ultimately take responsibility for ending this horror within their midst.
The vicious cycle, moreover, which exacts its eventual brutal toll from the women and girls and men and boys who are raped in our communities will not abate until:
(1) trained independent rape counselors are made available to all rape victims while they are still in custody; and
(2) community rape crisis centers make determined efforts to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of former prisoners living among us, who have survived rape physically, but not yet survived it emotionally.
None of this will happen unless we first break the silence around sexual violence in our institutions of confinement. Here the media, the lawyers, the sexual abuse activists, and the elected and appointed officials in charge of public safety must finally face up to their responsibilities.
After 168 years of heartbreaking abuse, and after decades of courageous efforts by the feminist rape survivor movement to bring the undiscussable topic of sexual abuse to public light, the time has finally come when we are ready to brave the awful truth so long denied and ignored. Then the silent screams will finally be heard.