On paper, prisons have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to rape and sexual abuse.
People who have been arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail have the right not to be pressured to engage in sexual acts. They should not need to tolerate abusive behavior or pressure to engage in unwanted sexual activity by other inmates or prison staff. Regardless of an inmate’s size, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, they all have the right to be safe from unwanted sexual activity.
Nevertheless, sexual abuse in prison occurs with some frequency. Sometimes it happens between inmates. Other times, it is perpetrated by guards. If you or someone you love was a victim of prison sexual abuse, the inmates’ rights attorneys at Robenalt Law are here to help.
Reporting Sexual Abuse of Inmates
Statistics regarding the number and frequency of sexual abuse in prisons vary greatly. But most reports show that between 5 and 20% of inmates have been sexually assaulted. However, sexual assault in prison often goes unreported. And even when sexual violence is reported, it may be ignored or handled improperly.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 80,000 men and women are sexually abused in correctional facilities every year. Within those reported cases, different demographics were at greater risk of sexual assault:
- White inmates are more likely than Black or Hispanic inmates to be victimized.
- Women inmates are more likely than male inmates to be sexually abused by correctional staff.
- LGBTQ inmates are at increased risk of prison rape.
- Inmates with physical or developmental disabilities risk being targeted by other prisoners.
- Younger inmates and those smaller in stature and lacking experience in correctional facilities are at a greater risk of sexual abuse by other prisoners.
- Juveniles who are incarcerated with adults are more likely to suffer from prison sexual assault than those who are in juvenile corrections facilities.
Perpetrators of Sexual Violence and Prison Rape
Inmates and Gang Rape
In men’s prisons, sexual abuse is often a method of social control. Many inmates are part of a gang, and gang leaders use rape or the threat of rape as a way to gain power and respect, while the victims are feminized and considered weak. Even inmates who engage in apparently consensual activities often do so for protection, support, and security.
Women in prison may attempt to create familial relationships to create a sense of control and belonging, and inmate on inmate sexual activity in women’s prisons tends to be consensual. However, some sexual activity among women in prison may be caused by coercion.
The power imbalance between prison guards and inmates can lead to abuse of power in prison as guards use direct and indirect methods to force inmates to engage in sexual activities. The problem is particularly acute in women’s prisons and juvenile detention facilities. According to a 2013 report by the Department of Justice, almost 90% of juveniles in detention facilities reported being victimized by female corrections officers.
In women’s prisons, male correction officers are often allowed to observe female inmates as they undress, shower, or use the toilet. Guards may harass prisoners, grope them during frisks and searches, or single them out for sexual favors by withholding meals, personal hygiene products, and other privileges. Because inmates are exclusively dependent on guards for their most basic necessities, the threat of withholding goods or privileges is a powerful motivator in attempting to induce an inmate to engage in unwanted sexual activities.
Any prisoner who does report sexual misconduct runs the risk of retaliation by the accused officer, and even prison officials. This may involve being written up for sexual misconduct, losing time accrued towards an early release, or lengthy periods of disciplinary segregation. Even when segregation is proposed as a protection mechanism, inmates are subjected to the same treatment as others who are segregated due to disciplinary problems.
Many inmates may not know where to turn, especially if the abuser is a senior member of the prison staff. Other times reports of sexual assault are ignored, or people who report sexual abuse are labeled as troublemakers.
Victims of Prison Rape and Other Forms of Sexual Abuse
Some victims of prison sexual assault are able to recover quickly, while others will experience life-long trauma as a result of being sexually victimized in prison. Side effects of prison rape and sexual assault may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of self-esteem
- Loss of trust in others
- Guilt, shame, and embarrassment
- Suicide or attempted suicide
These abuse cases can also result in the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Prison sexual abuse may involve multiple perpetrators, which can increase the likelihood of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. And unlike sexual assault outside of prison, victims of sexual assault in prison are often unable to remove themselves from the situation. As a result, many victims suffer from multiple assaults, sometimes by multiple different perpetrators.
Prison Rape Elimination Act Seeks to Protect Inmates and Assist Victims
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003 and enacted in 2012 to analyze the incidence and effect of prison rape in federal, state, and local correctional institutions. The PREA Resource Center was founded in 2010 and provides information, resources, recommendations, and funding to protect people from prison rape and assist victims of prison sexual assault.
Seeking Justice for Victims of Prison Sexual Abuse
Despite the frequency of sexual assault cases, it is illegal for prison guards to assault an inmate. Likewise, prison guards have a duty to protect inmates from other inmates, including protecting them against unwanted sexual advances.
If you or someone you love was a victim of prison rape or sexual abuse, a lawyer can help. You and your family may be entitled to compensation for a violation of your civil rights, personal injuries, and pain and suffering. However, there are complex rules that apply to cases against prisons.
At Robenalt Law, our lawyers are available for a confidential, free consultation to discuss your case. If we find that your case has merit, we can investigate by using subpoena power to request security camera footage, bodycam footage, records, reports, medical records, and duty logs. But if you do not act quickly, these items may be destroyed as part of a prison document retention policy.
Tom Robenalt started his litigation career at a large firm in Cleveland where he represented corporate defendants and insurance companies. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and their families secure compensation for injuries and wrongful death that occur when people are placed under arrest or are in prison.