Rape is rampant in U.S. prisons and jails, and it’s increasing.
Each year, 200,000 people are sexually abused while locked up, according to Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, a spokesman for health and human rights organization Just Detention International. “Both inmates and corrections officers perpetuate abuse, and contrary to public perception, at least half of all abuse is committed by officers,” Lerner-Kinglake said in a 2020 Fox News report.
The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which compiles data collected on reported rapes from corrections departments, reported 8,768 allegations of sexual assault and harassment in 2011. By the end of 2015, that number was 24,661 — a 180-percent-plus increase. Part of the increase is due to more people reporting sexual abuse behind bars.
“I see this is a clear sign that prisoners are starting to trust the system, rather than an indication that sexual abuse in detention is skyrocketing,” said Lovissa Stannow, the executive director of Just Detention International, in a Marshall Project report. Just Detention International is a leading advocacy organization trying to curb prison rape.
Prison rape is a higher systemic priority than police shootings, according to Dr. Boyce Watkins, an author, economist, political analyst, and social commentator who advocates for education, economic empowerment and social justice.
“The reason the media has us focused on one police shooting after another is that when 40 million people are mourning for one person, they are missing out on the thousands of others being raped in prison right now. Justice is systematic, not case-by-case. You’re in a loop”, Watkins tweeted @drboycewatkins1.
Watkins has long advocated for a focus on prison sexual abuse. When Barack Obama was president, Watkins helped push him to end Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs, to treat addictions and divert non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prisons.
In 2010, Watkins wrote in NewsOne, “Many prison rapes are allowed to occur by authorities who seem to believe that being sexually assaulted is simply part of the debt you must pay to society.”
Sexual abuse in prisons disproportionately affects Black men, who are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
One out of three Black males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, compared in 17 whites, according to the ACLU.
“While some studies report that Black men are disproportionately involved as sexual assault aggressors, additional research has concluded that incarcerated Black men are also more likely to be sexually victimized,” according to a 2014 study “Exposure to Prison Sexual Assault Among Incarcerated Black Men” published by the Journal of African American Studies.
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In 2003, Congress passed legislation to eliminate sexual assaults against inmates, but statistics have proved that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) has failed.
However, more people are reporting sexual abuse in prison as a result of PREA, The Atlantic reported.