Prison Rape Statistics Don’t Tell The Complete Horror Story
According to various estimates, anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000 prisoners are raped or sexually assaulted in any given year in the U.S penal system. Author Scott L. Anderson, reports these rates to be significantly higher and cautions that most prison rapes go unreported. Anderson’s book, “How to Survive in Prison or Jail,” offers the following sobering statistics for rape in prisons and jails each year:
- Over 300,000 instances of prison rape occur each year;
- 196,000 are estimated to happen to men in prison;
- 123,000 are estimated to happen to men in county jail;
- 40,000 are estimated to be committed against boys in either adult prisons or while in juvenile facilities or lock ups; and
- 5,000 women are estimated to be raped in prison.
The wide discrepancy in the estimated number of prison rapes is easy to explain: most inmates are reluctant to report sexual assaults, and prison administrators have a vested interest in keeping such assaults out of the public eye (especially if these assaults are facilitated, or even perpetrated, by prison guards.)
Younger inmates, especially those sentenced to juvenile facilities, are at greater risk for rape, and are often more reluctant to report these assaults to the authorities and it is widely believed that the number of prison rapes on young white males, the most vulnerable population in jails and prisons, is significantly higher.
The Damaging Impact of Sexual Assaults on Prisoners
Sexual assaults can result in serious injury to an inmate’s emotional and psychological well-being, but prison rapes are often accompanied by severe violence that can result in serious injuries as well.
Inmates raped in prison contract sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS at a rate six times higher than the national average.
Prison sexual assaults often involves gang-style rape and victims may be raped repeatedly over time. Weaker men, especially young, white males, in prison may be forced to provide sexual favors to work off prison debts of other convicts.
The High Suicide Rate Among Prisoners
It is not surprising given the violent sexual assault rate in prisons that the leading cause of prison deaths is suicide. According to Anderson, “Suicide rates in prison are estimated to be 15.4 per 100,000 inmates in all the states averaged out, with the exception of California, which has an astronomical 179 per 100,000. Penologists believe that the number one cause of suicide in prison is rape, with AIDS and depression from being in prison being the two runner up reasons.”
Holding Prison Administrators Accountable
There are many ways in which prison administrators can be held responsible for inmate rapes and sexual assaults. Known offenders should be segregated from the rest of the prison population, and guards with a history of such assaults should be terminated.
If the prison authorities are made aware of a rape or sexual assault, and do nothing to prevent future occurrences (either by protecting the victim or isolating the perpetrator), they can also be liable for damages.
Guards witnessing a rape in progress (or even having knowledge that it’s about to happen) are required to intercede and failure to do so can also be an actionable offense.