Being sent to prison, knowing that for a period of time that one will have to live behind bars, is traumatic in and of itself. If that wasn't bad enough, some inmates suffer further humiliation by being sexually assaulted at the hands of fellow inmates and prison guards.
At times, such indignity is not adequately addressed or is ignored by prison officials, leaving an inmate to be a victim of further sexual assaults and rapes. In one instance, an inmate-victim's complaints were ignored, leaving him only one option to escape the assaults perpetrated upon him - attacking another inmate so that he would be sent to solitary confinement.
Inmates who are victimized by fellow inmates and guards are left with emotional and physical scars, some of which will never heal. Suffering sexual violence often leaves the victim-inmate with:
- Physical injury
- Psychological trauma
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including the incurable illnesses of HIV/AIDS
Sexual Violence Is Widespread
A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that approximately 88,500 inmates - 4.4 percent of prison inmates and 3.1 percent of jail inmates - were the victims of sexual violence in the past year. Of the inmates that reported assaults, 13 percent of male prison inmates and 19 percent of male jail inmates reported that they were sexually assaulted within the first 24 hours of incarceration.
The BJS report also identified two California prisons - Pleasant Valley in Coalinga and the California Medical Facility - as having inmate-on-inmate sexual assault rates among the highest in the country. Both have sexual assault rates that are roughly double the national average.
New Laws to Protect Inmates
To curb the scourge of sexual violence in prisons, the U.S. Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. The act emphasized a "zero-tolerance standard" for rape, mandating that prison systems throughout the country will make the prevention of rape "a top priority."
Further emphasizing the need for inmate protection and safety, the state of California passed the Sexual Abuse in Detention Elimination Act in 2005. This act stated that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will work to proactively prevent acts of sexual violence and to respond to reports of sexual abuse when they occur.
California has begun implementing new procedures at two prisons in an attempt to lower the rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence. As part of the new safety measures:
- Inmates receive information about their rights
- Training is provided to staff
- Victims of sexual abuse receive counseling
Sexual abuse is abhorrent in all forms regardless of where and to whom it occurs. Just because one commits a crime does not forgive acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them.