I got a vague sickened feeling recently when I saw prison rape made the subject of a TV comedy skit. I wondered if the affluent stars even knew what they were laughing about. Did they see it as some vague forbidden topic that could only happen to someone else? Though many people are still ignorant of the facts, the intimate details of what prison rape really is have been finally coming to light in recent years.
Rodney Hulin, a very troubled and trouble-causing 16 year old who was arrested in Texas for arson, was a real person who became famous after his prison death. After his first experience of being sexually assaulted in jail, he formally requested protective custody ( to be placed in a safe prison area). ..."I still think that my life is in danger," he wrote to prison officials in 1995. Though Hulin was a small, lone, kid in a jail filled with gang members, his request was unanimously denied. Rodney wrote his mother about the situation: "I'm living with a ... teenager, 17 years old. He wants me to pay him $10.00 so he will not have to fight me... Mom, I'm really scared that I will not get to see you again. I'm scared that I will die in here." His mother called the prison, but got no help for her son.
In Jan. of 1996, Hulet once again formally requested a transfer to a safe area. "I feel that my life is in danger. I have been threatened, jumped and nearly stabbed many times, I have reported these incidents and given written statements." Hulet's request for transfer was again denied. Later that month, Hulet wrote a suicide note before he hung himself. He stated that he had been abused in multiple ways by his father as a child. "Since I was placed in prison 7-31-95, I have found myself to be more mentally and emotionally destroyed than I have ever been. I'm very sorry to end my life this way. But if I don't do this some one will. I'm saying I rather die on my free will than be killed."
T. J. Parsell, author of the 2006 memoir "Fish," has also fleshed out what it is really like to be sexually assaulted in jail. Parsell was jailed at 17 after entering a photo booth with a toy gun as a joke. Convicted of a dangerous crime, he was terrified and knew nothing about prison. Admitted, he was soon befriended by an older inmate, who drugged him for an after- party rape. The following repeated rapes were agonizingly painful torture for him. Even worse, he related the case of a "sex slave" who was forced by his "owner" to service every inmate at a prison movie. This particular image is one of the most degrading portraits of a human being that I have ever contemplated.
Another prisoner was a member of a small group greatly outnumbered by a larger gang. Everyone in his smaller group had to fight to prove themselves, then they would be received into the smaller group for some protection. But then the larger group demanded that everyone in the smaller group fight them again. Rather than have everyone in the small group run the gauntlet again, the small group threw the man in question out and "gave him" to the larger group. Suddenly finding himself surrounded by overwhelming force, he realized that there was no way that he could prevent a rape, and he might even get killed resisting, so he was forced to allow himself to become a group rape victim. He was forced to become a sex toy for a large group of men.
Laughing at these victims sends a message that these people are subhuman and they don't matter . No matter what a person has done, years of brutal torture should not be part of the penalty in a civil society. -- And it could could actually happen to anyone, or any one's relative. First time offenders in for some minor reason are often scarred for life, or contract AIDS from a brief jail encounter. And what if a person is falsely accused?
Tom Cahill, a veteran, and a well-known prisoner advocate, was arrested at a peaceful antiwar protest. A hostile prison guard shouted "fresh meat" when he was first placed in a crowded prison block. He was physically and sexual assaulted throughout the next day-- a life- time penalty of horror for a non-violent political arrest.
Another ex-prisoner was only arrested for public intoxication. Despite his minor offense, the incredulous man soon found himself being raped by a corrections officer.
But, thank God, there are also some recent bright spots to add to this horrendous prison rape story. A "Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003" was passed. The act mandates that statistics on prison rape, and methods of preventing it, be gathered by law enforcement for the first time. The program is just beginning and is not yet really in place, but work has started. In 2009, surveys found that 4.4% of prison inmates had been sexually victimized in the past year. One wonders if that is a low figure. Victims overwhelmed with shame, and in daily fear of their lives for ratting on perpetrators, may not find the courage to report the rapes, even anonymously. Nevertheless, 7,444 prisoners reported allegations of sexual victimization in 2008.
In state juvenile facilities, and large non-state facilities, 12% of inmates. reported sexual abuse in the past year. Shockingly, 95% of juvenile victims reporting staff sexual misconduct reported being targeted by female prison guards. Females now make up about half of the employees in the state juvenile facilities.
Chris Daley, of the prisoner advocacy group Just Detention, provided some back ground information for this post. Apparently, national guidelines to prevent prison rape are soon to be released. For the first time, there will be official rules to prevent this ancient type of victimization. The training of prison guards will be important.
And, as I learned from watching that unfortunate TV skit, education of the public will be one of the most critical tasks ahead.