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Prison Rape: Issue Analysis Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 3rd, 2021

Any criminal placed behind bars after the court’s verdict is promised new world and his reformation through correctional officers and several methods that would make him responsible citizen. This idea was visualized in 1970 and many Philadelphia Quakers full of zeal and optimistic about revolution began their experiment tool for the renovation of the prisoners. Their punishment methods followed with the idea of restoring the criminals towards virtuous life and their happiness. But Clarke, role played by Bruce Davison, does not think so nor his life in the prison reveals an inkling of any reformation or respite for prisoners. He is portrayed in “Short Eyes” as a symbolic of thousands of criminals who are languishing behind bars brutalized, sodomized, sexually assaulted, traumatized, and many times kept in inhuman condition. Clark is locked behind the bars only to face his inmates treating him in a degrading manner as he was charged with sexually assaulting a child. All the inmates are themselves hooligans, junkies, killers etc and they were treating Clark degradingly as if though he has desiccated the whole community of criminals through his nefarious acts. (Short Eyes, Movie).

Overcrowded and understaffed with many idle prisoners are the ground to violence, sexual abuse, extortions and many other forms of abuses. Correctional staff that are minority in number resorts to any kind of physical abuse only in the name of correcting them. During 1999, several news stories were flashed relating to the deadly abuse of the prisoners in Texas. Guards hit them with their fists and batons, fired at them with the shotguns, banged their faces on the floors and went on to the extent of raping them. In March 1999, Federal court’s concluding statement was “the frequency of ‘wholly unnecessary physical aggression’ perpetrated by guards in Texas prisons reflected a ‘culture of sadistic and malicious violence’ found there.” (Mariner, 31).

Among all the exhortations and abuse by the prison officials, the rape and sexual assault on the prisons are the worst of its kinds. In 2003, President Bush conformed to the congressional efforts on defining the prison rape as a social problem requiring legislative actions when he signed the law of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). (Anderson, 2) The act maintains the prison rape as a very grave issue and a civil rights violation.

Research conducted by the University of South Dakota’s City, Struckman-Johnson pinpointed the fact that 20 per cent of the prisoners reported being pressurized or forced to perform the sex and 10 per cent confirmed that they were raped. Survey in 2007 by the U.S department of Justice confirmed that more than 60,000 inmates were either sexually assaulted or were forced into sex during the period of past one year. Still these figures are not very accurate as the numbers would have been more, given the stigma attached to this kind of act. (Klein, Online).

Chief Assistant District Attorney Alan J Davis of Jail of Philadelphia with the help of police made first research attempt in 1968. Davis found 3.3 per cent of males subjected to sexual assault but official records only showed 3.2 per cent of these rapes. On basis of these numbers, Donaldson conducted the study nationwide in 3300 jails and his observation pointed out the grim picture. He said that there were 14,000 victims inside the jails at one time in 1994 and every year 290, 000 males were traumatized and made victim to this abuse. (Crawford, 76) Sexual assaults tend to occur more in the medium/maximum security prisons than at the minimum-security level prisons. (Crawford, 76) Though the opportunity for them in the medium/maximum security prisons is less yet owing to their deep criminal background, they pose more threat to security measures and escape resulting in getting more aggressive. (Crawford, 77).

If we see on the moral grounds, the violence inside the prisons leave them psychologically beaten and induce in them more craving for violence. Research conducted by an economist Jesse Shapiro and Keith Chen too clear the fact that violence by the prisoners would incite in them the craving for more violence. For female prisoners, degradation is even more as in many prisons male correction officers are permitted to keep a watch on them while they are changing or bathing and use very verbal and abusive language for them. It is crumpling of the women’s self- respect and dignity and expose them to the verge of post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, abuse and shocks and disbelief. But more degrading is the fact that their complaints often go unreported and are ignored.

The biggest problem lies in the nature of this act itself as it is very difficult to validate the statement of the victim due to lack of proof. Secondly, they are themselves criminals put behind the bars owing to their nefarious acts and quite eligible for such behavior by law officials. Another point is the lack of awareness or drive for such an issue on the part of Government, social welfare organizations and people in general. Since underlying causes are many, there is very little or no consensus among social scientists, administrators or government officials and very little political motive. The biggest cause is the control over the prisoners and check on their messages or any information being passed out. Another underlying reason is the myth associated with the sexual acts. For e.g. Assumption that heterosexual men could not be coxed into any kind of sexual act and nonetheless prejudice against prisoners never allow correctional officers to listen to the wows of these prisoners. Another biggest myth is even imagining the rape of males is unthinkable. But this is not true, males are also raped and this misconception is also quite true “that once raped, a man is no longer a true man”. (Crawford, 73) Steven Donaldson pointed out in his Encyclopedia on homosexuality, “Historically in some societies, the rape of the losing warrior was considered essential and a part of being the victor in battle. Once raped, a man cannot be a leader or a warrior in any capacity.” (Crawford, 73- 74) This belief does not allow many of these victims to reveal their tragedy. Their admission only they are raped is similar to their acceptance that they are not men and they have no control over their own body. (Crawford, 73- 74).

The story of a prisoner named Plaintiff is not only shocking but also an eye opener to the revelation that males are equally subjected to rape and violence. Plaintiff was white, short and a silent young prisoner who could not see with his right eye. On 25th of January 1997 at around 2 AM, Plaintiff went to relieve himself at 7 barracks but soon later another of his inmate C. Williams followed him and as Plaintiff turned back, Williams took out of his glass knife. Pointing at Plaintiff he threatened to pull his other eye out if he did not obey him and allowed fucking him. William then kept knife on his throat ordering him to turn around and pull down his pants, which Plaintiff had to do to save his life. William then raped him and when Plaintiff began to scream with pain, Williams threatened him of consequences if he told about the incident to any one. Plaintiff endured great pain, suffered from extreme emotional and psychological anguish. Even anti-depressants were not of much help and he was affected from severe nervous disorder to the extent that he was always finding incapable to concentrate as a result his memory decreased. He lost all the desire to perform even simple things and withdrew himself more into isolation. Above all he was getting nightmares and also thought of attempting suicide several times.

His experience of rape was very terrific, painful and very humiliating. Plaintiff also got rectal soreness that did not go even after several days. His fear of contracting HIV also continued for several months. He did not receive any legal assistance or psychological treatment and was released from prison in the same state in 1998. (Mariner, 109).

Cases also came to light when some prisoners suffered from broken bones; loss of teeth, bloody gashes and one of the prisoner from Texas Randy Payne was killed owing to sexual abuses. (Mariner, 110) In 1994 one of the inmates, Michael Blucker contracted HIV due to his repeated rape at the Menard Correctional Center. (Mariner, 111).

The reporting is out-rightly discouraged as the stigma attached to it is unbearable and many inmates get deeply ashamed of and are hesitant to admit what happened to them. Inmates hide their victimizers also because they are scared of more assault. One of the inmates at Human Watch also stated the fact that, “I was too embarrassed to tell the [corrections officers] what had happened. The government acts as if a ‘man’ is supposed to come right out and boldly say ‘I’ve been raped.’ You know that if it is degrading for a woman, how much more for a man.” (Mariner, 131) In such a situation, victimizers again have to stay back with their persecutors exposed to more assault and sexual abuse. One of the jail inmate of Texas reported to Human rights, “[T]he first time I was raped, I did the right thing. I went to an officer, told him what happened, got the rectal check, the whole works. Results? I get shipped to [another prison]. Six months later, same dude that raped me is out of seg and on the same wing as I am. I have to deal with 2 jackets now: snitch & punk. I… had to think real fast to stay alive. This was my first 2 years in the system. After that I knew better.” (Mariner, 132) Studies conducted by Nebraska found that in 1996, 71 percent of the victims never reported their trauma to the authorities and a survey in 1988 also confirmed the same. (Mariner, 132).

Many researchers and popular writers like Donaldson, Tewksbury, Wooden and Parker, Bowker and Scacco had taken this issue from deeper angles. (Crawford, 74) They truly visualized rape in prison as an “institutionalized tradition”. (Crawford, 74) For males, it is the retaining of their heterosexual status and dominant attitude over other man that coax them to penetrate into the privacy of others especially weaker ones. Donaldson pointed out the fact that even the strongest of the prisoners could be overpowered and have his desired status stripped away in a flash of violence. (Crawford, 75) Prisoners are devoid of the female partners so they fulfill their sexual desires by assaulting other inmates thinking them their property. In short, anxious and natural urge of need for sexual outlet, power and proving themselves superior to others in the name of status and showing off their manhood perpetuate them to sexually overpower others.

Yet another category in the prison technology is known as Queens-name given to homosexuals and are often termed as second-class citizens. They are not given equal sexual status even in prisons. It has also been found that those homosexuals who do act as queens and are performing their feminine roles are considered as threats. (Crawford, 75) But lower than the homosexuals are punks. They are young men and define themselves as heterosexuals but they have been turned out from their role of men and are forced to perform sexual receptive role. They are generally weak and are forced into this status, as they always have to face the danger of rape or even a gang rape. They always have to expose themselves to the terrified situation and environment and their status remains the same wherever they go. It has also become very impossible for them to escape from this role as the label of punk attached to them follow them wherever they go whether to other cell or in other institution. (Crawford, 76) In-spite of the fact that they are less violent and first time offenders they have to be subjected themselves to their own abuse.

Racism is also main cause of the crime. Whichever racial group is majority in number would be dominating and the minority group would always feel subjugated.

“Short Eyes” is a real drama and is a Pandora of the life of prisoners taking its audience from its reel life to its real life. There is hatred in the eyes of officials against these prisoners and even more hatred and rebuke is there in the eyes of other inmates against this white man’s crime. For these black and Puerto Rican convicts, this kind of offense is beyond any state of forgiveness. They ostracize him, and ignore him totally. For Clark, Juan is the only man who listens to his side of the story- a very touching and surrealistic account of that part of his life, which turned him to yet another number beyond the prison walls. How all the prisoners perform their part and act and react with and against each other? There is a scene of homosexual seducing, talking of masturbation and then death. There is no solace for Cupcakes who is again terrorized and molested sexually by the despicable Paco under the submissive portentous eyes of Omar. Julio fended their advances inducing Paco to look upon Clark to satisfy his sexual urge. In all this drama, Murphy and Omar incited him though Juan made efforts to stop other inmates. (Short Eyes, Movie).

It is a paradigm of society beyond the comprehension of any conventional society. It’s the society that though lay besieged under the subjugation of the autocratic sections of the society yet they are creating their own life of free will exhorting to assert their sexual freedom. Amidst this there are those criminals who want to shy away from all this yet are not saved. It is there predefined hatred that pours out itself in the form of their sexual endeavors. Prison in the film is small version of the world’s chauvinistic attitude and hypocritical tendency.

“Short Eyes” is not merely a film of the rape of prisoners but also the rape of whole judicial system. Through the eyes of these prisoners, film has bore naked whole administrative system by marking various lines on the complexities that mar the basic fundamental features of judicial system and justice bestowed. Rape inside prisons means rape of the democracy and humanity.

The consequence of rape is very devastating. When a person is raped, this is not an end to his trauma; he has to face more and more the consequences. He has to undergo stress, defensiveness, injury and heavy toll to his physicality. Either he has to constantly fight to make his presence felt as the man, or be submissive by submitting himself to a powerful. The only salvation, he can get is the removal from that cell upon discovery of the rape and keep him under the protective custody. Here one thing to be noted is that being a submissive partner does not mean fully complying with the order of more powerful because he accepted it under pressure for his survival but owing to his survival strategy, he is violating the rules of prison. If he is found out he is further punished for violation.

Getting affected from HIV is another dreaded consequence. Repeated sexual abuse can be dangerous for them as they can get affected from HIV, and even though many of them are juveniles and are minor offenders yet their period behind bars become the matter of their life and death. They also suffer from what is known as “rape trauma syndrome.” (Amar & Burgess, 25) It is a kind of posttraumatic stress syndrome. This is emotional and psychological disturbance particularly related to females but not restricted to them. They feel dejected, helpless, shame, vulnerable. They have to face nightmares; feel guilty that turn their suppressed rage into aggression and more violence and the hope that they would regain their humanity is a sign very bleak.

The word sexual assault is itself a term cannot be taken very casually but at the same time is also impossible to speak off openly. There is every scope to make prediction of this crime and at the same time can be prevented too. Very nature of the problem does not allow the administrators of the prisons to disclose and even admit the fact that this problem is occurring in their prison. It would mean declaring that they are incapable of management and they lack in the control of the prisons. In many of the federal and state prisons, there is a lack of trained staff.

But all is not bleak; several cases appeared in front of Supreme Court and verdict announced in favor of victims. One of the cases was of Farmer v. Brennan in 1944. Farmer was a preoperative transsexual with feminine attributes and was kept behind bars along with other male prisoners. Farmer was sometimes kept with other mates in general cell and sometimes separately and one day while he was shifted into penitentiary from correctional cell, he was beaten and raped by another prisoner. In this case, Supreme Court said that prison officials were not only liable under the Eighth Amendment for the welfare of the inmates but they were also liable to safeguard their human conditions during confinement. (Crawford, 79).

The first duty of the administrators is to place the rape victim in the protective custody, which is either twenty-three hour lockdown or separation from the local population. (Crawford, 80) But this is not a solution as this means again punishing the victim by isolating him from others and in fact subjected him to more sexual assault. Another solution could be Prison Rape Education Project formulated by Donaldson. (Crawford, 81).

The development of public awareness on the prison rape is a recent phenomenon and since decades, people have varied views on its depth and severity of its prevalence. During the year 1974, Carl Weiss and David James Friar estimated that the time would come that 46 million Americans be be put behind bars, and out of these prisons, 10 million people would be raped. (Siegal, 1542) During 2001, Human Rights watch produced a paper entitled, “No Escape: Male Rape in U S Prisons. This paper was the single most incident from which were taken the contents for PREA soon after two years. During this period, Human Rights Watch had produced many more papers on incidents of prison rape since the first report was published on 1996. The first paper was titled ‘All too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in U.S. State Prisons’ and came into public view at the time when there was no support of legislature on prison rape. In 1998, an attempt was made by reepresentative John Conyers Jr. which came in the form of Custodial Sexual Abuse Act of 1998. The act was linked to the reauthorization bill that was passed as Violence Against Women Act but unfortunately was removed and never reintroduced. Michael Horowitz was also credited for playing great part in contributing a passage for PREA.

In 1990 18 states adopted the first Prison Rape laws and by 2006, all states but only Vermont had formulated number of laws forbidding rape in prisons. During 1999, the Los-Angeles-based organization Stop Prisoner Rape was formed, whereas the American University Washington College of Law and the National Institute of Corrections also formulated a joint program to create effective control and preventive measures of rape in prisons. In 2003, President Bush gave sanction to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and formulated a commission that led to the raise of detection, prevention, and reduction of prisoner rape. Specifically, it created a space and free air for detecting and preventing to any incidence related to sexual violence. It also enabled correctional staff to have more and more access to the data of criminals committing sexual violence and made officials in charge of prisons more accountable for the safety of the prisoners. In 2005, several federal prisons were penalized. (Insideprison.com, Online).

Prison Rate Elimination Act 2003 was first of its kind, which specifically dealt with the issue of the sexual assault of prisoners. The bill was made into law on 4th September, 2003. This act got a support of many people from various fields like activists, lobbyists, and organizations. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty commission sought the interest to promote the passage of the legislation did by anti-feminists “Concerned Women for America”. (McElory, Online) The other groups to support the legislation were “Amnesty International USA, Focus on Family, Human Rights Watch, the NAACP, the National Association of Evangelicals, Penal Reform International, Physicans for Human Rights, the Presbyterian Church USA , the Salvation Army and the Union of America hebrew Congregations”. (Strode, Online).

The bill got the support and sponsorship of both the houses of the United States Congress by bipartisan group of legislators. The first sponsors in the Senate were Jeff Sessions and the house of representatives. This act was passed unanimously by both the houses of US Congress and was signed by the President George W. Bush in a White House ceremony on 4th September 2003. The aim of the act was to stop the prison rape through the process known as zero-tolerance policy, as well as with the help of research and information gathering. (Jordan, Morgan & McCampbell, Online) This act was also invited to form the national standards for prevention and detection of the incidents pertaining to sexual violence in prison, forming of date on rape incidents, which could be made easily available to administrators as well as bringing out several correctional facilities and making them accountable for any incident of rape in prisons.

The most important part of the act was the formulation of the ‘National Prison Rape Reduction Commission’ and the panel was also set up known as the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC). (Jordan, Morgan & McCampbell, Online) This panel had a duty to undertake study of the effects of the prison rapes and incidents of rapes. It was also given the charge to gather the information through the means of various sources including public hearings. This law has also made the cases of such nature mandatory and put it in a top prioirty. Besides the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) was given the order to provide the training and every kind of help and every information and also annual report to Congress. PREA also directed DOJ to form a review panel for conducting special hearings on prison rape. (Jordan, Morgan & McCampbell, Online) Again, Danny K Davis formulated the Second Chance Act of 2007, on 20th March. Among its several provisions there were certain amendments to the act of PREA. The bills main aim was the efforts to bring criminal offenders into the affinity of the community.

Besides at the ground root level, the provisions should be made to provide education to the prisoners and make them aware of the fact that they are also responsible citizens of their state and nation, and make them feel important. This would increase their self -confidence and they will adopt the positive attitude towards the world. They should be made to believe that they are always chances of redemption in whatever circumstances they have committed the crime. Inside the four walls, there should be provision for their entertainment and certain group meetings should be arranged for them under the supervision of the correctional officers. In the meetings, all of them should be allowed to speak on their problems and their tragic experiences of their life and the stress they are undergoing through and should be taught different ways to overcome their stress. This is a slow process but would ultimately be beneficial in the long-run as it would increase their self esteem; they would get meaning in their lives and could prepare their lives for the better after their release from the prison.

Correctional officers should also be held accountable for any rape incident and if he himself is found indulging in the act then he should be severely dealt with. There should be separate panel to take the cases where correctional officers or any one found indulging the crime is involved. The panel would encourage the victims to put their complain forward without any fear either in verbal or in writing.

To take the efforts to fruitful end, full cooperation is required at the community level who would accept the prisoners and make them feel wanted. Prisoners can feel open to share their traumatic experiences and not to fear about the stigma attached to it. Though implementation of it is very difficult yet with concrete efforts, lot of differences can be made in the lives of the prisoners and in bringing down much hatred and stigmatized incidents of rape in prisons so called correctional cells.

Reference

Amar, Angela F. & Burgess, Ann Wolbert. “Rape and its impact on the victims”. Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Eds. Gerhard Schomburg, Robert R. Hazelwood & Ann Wolbert Burgess. Buca Raton, Fl: CRC Press, 2008. 25-38.

Anderson, Janet. “Prison Rape and Sexual Coercion Behind Bars”. Research & Advocacy Digest WCSAP, 2005, 7(3): 1-16.

Crawford, Charles. “Sexual Victims Behind Bars: The Forgotten Victims.” Sexual Violence: Policies, Practices, And Challenges in the United States And Canada. Eds. James F. Hodgson & Debra S. Kelley. New York: Criminal Justice Press, 2004. 73-84.

Insideprison.com. “Prison Rape: the challenge of prevention and enforcement” 2008. Web.

Jordan, Andrew, Morgan, Marcia & McCampbell, Michael. “The Prison Rape Elimination Act: What Police Chiefs Need to Know.” Internet (2006). Web.

Klein, Ezra. “There’s nothing funny about prison rape”. Los Angeles Times Internet (2008) Web.

Mariner, Joanne. “No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons”. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001.

McElory, Wendy. “Confronting Prison Rape.” (2003) Web.

“Short Eyes”. Movie, 1977.

Siegal, David, M. “Rape in Prison and AIDS: A Challenge for the Eighth Amendment Framework of Wilson v. Seiter” Stanford Law Review 44(6): 1541-1581, 1992.

Strode, Tom. “Law targeting prison rape signed; diverse coalition backed measure”. Baptist Press. (2003). Web.

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