On Prison Rape

TW for, obviously, rape. Also gif warning for people with epilepsy. 

I have decided today is the day to talk about prison rape, which some people think is still not an issue. (Note: if you think prison rape isn’t an issue, especially after reading what I have to say about it, please leave my blog forever. We don’t need rape-apologist douchefaces here.)

Twenty percent of inmates in American men’s prisons are sexually abused at some point during their detention. 4.5% of federal and state prisoners have been sexually abused in the last year alone. Survivors are often repeatedly raped because they’re marked as “fair game”; sometimes they’re treated like property and sold within the facility.

You want to talk about the normalization of rape? Try this on about the normalization of rape: it is accepted by most Americans that rape is a routine part of being imprisoned. In fact, some people think of it as a way to prevent crime. Incidentally, here is all the evidence that prison rape prevents crime:


Not to mention that rape is, you know, a crime that isn’t being prosecuted. That must be one hell of a deterrent effect if we’re allowing people to literally commit crimes in order to stop crime.

Let’s also not forget that prison rape is unconstitutional because it’s cruel and unusual punishment (both Congress and the Supreme Court have recognized it as such). And that it’s torture according to international treaties ratified by the US and, last time I checked, we aren’t allowed to torture people. Admittedly, there are many areas of the justice system that need to get this particular message! But that doesn’t change the fact that rape is torture and torture is a thing we should not do.

Marginalized people are the most likely to be victimized. In American men’s prisons, gay inmates, transgender people of all genders, young inmates (especially when housed with adults), and nonviolent offenders are the most likely to be raped. Yes, nonviolent offenders. That shows you how well that whole “punishment for the crime” thing is going. You horrible check-forger! Check forgery is such a horrific crime we shall punish it with torture under the Geneva Conventions!

And let’s not forget that inmates are much more likely than the general population to have been sexually abused as children, not to have a support system, and to be mentally ill, which puts them at a higher risk of developing PTSD, depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation. Not to mention all the ways that the American prison environment causes secondary trauma: indifference, jokes, and harsh questioning from corrections officials; the corrections department not classifying PTSD as a serious mental illness*; counselling that isn’t confidential, if it’s even available; the risk of being a “snitch” if they report (and counselors are required to report), putting them at higher risk of violence and other retaliations; having to share living quarters with their rapist; inability to control their environment to prevent triggers; lack of contact with out-of-prison support systems…

Did I mention that all of this happens under the eyes of corrections officials? That corrections officials often condone prison rape and sometimes even participate in it? That not only is rape illegal but that any sexual contact between a prisoner and a corrections official is illegal in pretty much every state? And yet it happens in prisons across the country? Yep! All of those are true things!

Prison rape is horrible. Prison rape is not funny. Prison rape affects one out of every five male prisoners, mostly the weakest, and the prison system not only fails to provide them with support and justice but actively makes their rape worse. Prison rape does not serve as a deterrent or punishment for crime, and even if it did using it as such would be in violation of the Constitution and international law. I dunno, people who aren’t seeking to stamp out prison rape, do you hate the Constitution? Because that’s pretty much the sense I’m getting here.

One prison rape is too many. One in five male prisoners being raped is definitely too many. Prison rape matters. Don’t fucking joke about it, and consider donating to Just Detention, which works to end prison rape in the US and internationally.

*yes, really

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at ozyfrantz@gmail.com or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. the numbers of men being raped in the military is also really much higher than most of us suspected….


  2. I know one way to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders….

    end the “war” on drugs….

  3. I’ll give a few numbers I know from over here in Australia so you can know that you’re not the only people to be suffering under a terrible prison system.

    Over here, official surveys done by the government penned prison rape at roughly 10%, but those reports were pretty much purposely poorly done to lessen the appearance of a problem. An independent research team surveyed prisoners from all across the east coast and found that 20% of those they talked to admitted to being raped under confidentiality agreements, with a further 10% showing “Suspicious signs” or not outright confirmation of being raped, putting the estimated rape rate (what a horrible thing to have to type) at 20-30%.

    And here’s where it gets bad. In New South Wales in the year this report was released, one prison inhabitant was convicted with a sexual assault offense in the entire state, in the entire year. Just one. How’s that for messed up?

  4. When I was a kid, Massachusetts Juvie prisons were fully open and nationally infamous for extreme violence and 100% chance of rape for all. Mass Juvies were true hell on earth.

    Now the encouraging stuff:

    I recently visited a NH Juvie for both genders, and spent a couple hours with the kids.
    I was floored by the safety they enjoy, the structure they embrace, the staff that watches over them and the respect they show each other.

    The routines, building design and staff mission makes it probably impossible for sexual or physical assault to ever happen.

    I saw smiles. I heard stories of drive to succeed and build character. I heard dialogue surrounding a failure-is-not-an-option plan for the rest of most of the lives there. Sure there were jokers who missed their pot-smoking (age 11). But the jokers were surrounded by adults who were there with a mission and fellow inmates with little willingness to partake in foolish banter.

    I was SO impressed and encouraged. Those inmates are headed in a better direction than most of their contemporaries I know.

  5. Let’s just be honest here. Prison is no more then a dumping ground. A place to throw people (mostly guys) so that society doesn’t have to deal with them. There is little to no “habilitation” or “rehabilitation.” Prisons for the most part simply make criminals better criminals.

    Heck, society sees men as dispensable or disposable. Do ya really think prisons give a rats ass if these guys make in outside the prison walls?

    I’m surprised anyone is willing to disclose information about being raped in that there is a prisoners code that truly frowns on “snitches.” The victim as well as his family run the risk of harm. It goes far beyond the prison walls.

  6. Ozy, this is probably the best article of many good ones I have read on prison rape. You get the anger exactly right, and your facts are in order. You should consider posting it to r/Men’s Rights.

  7. Prisons are supposed not only keep dangerous people off the streets and keep them from harming other people and themselves. But they are also for rehabilitation. I’ve watched show after show. No wonder most people who go to prison return. I have NOT seen it where ANY are shown PSA videos on a daily basis, Bait Car Tv Show, Police Wild Car Chases and more.

    Some people are just plain stupid because usually their friends are just plain stupid. Some do not even think as far as they can see.

    Now prison rape, the most joked about hing on the outside of the prison. “Don’t drop the soap.” i remember when I first herd that as a teen. I never understood it. Someone explained it to me and it still made no sense.

    You’re a non-violent criminal, a wimp compared to that guy over there pumping 400lb+ weights and built and very strong. You think he has to wait for you to drop the soap to get him some? He can pick you up off the ground with one hand.

    Granted none of that is right. I watched the TV Show Oz a few years ago. I got addicted to it. Once I watched three episodes back -to-back. By the time the credit started rolling, I was looking for a guard to ask if i could go to the bathroom. I took a break from that show. But even before than I saw American History X and learn a bit about racism, rape and loyalty in prison.

    The Shawshank redemption was even better. Granted these are just movies, I know I have never been to jail nor prison and i plan to keep it that way.

    With out some kind of rehabilitation for these ex-convicts…. WHAT can we expect from them when they return into the world?

    Are they NOT like ‘war heroes’ who have those war nightmares? I could NOT imagine going to prison. Give me solitary and a stack of books, some artist utensil and leave me be. Of course food and shower.

    We’re living in a terrible world and is getting more terrible on the personality level and tolerance.

  8. This is a superb post, ozy. It does miss one important aspect of prison rape, though: prison rape rewards rapists. That is, every dumbfuck who thinks prison rape is acceptable because it ‘punishes’ some criminal invariably neglects to think about the fact that prison rape rewards (with sexual gratification) some other criminal. So you end up with two criminals, one harboring rage at his sexual abuse, and the other having learned that violent exploitation of the weak is the ‘winner’s’ way to go.

    Most criminals eventually leave prison … are these the kinds of people we want emerging from them?

  9. JULIE MADDUX says:

    Thank you for addressing this uncomfortable issue. My husband was in prison and wrote me a letter about the rape of a young prisoner after he arrived at the main processing center by two lifers who had no hope for ever leaving prison so obviously no punishment for this mattered- they had nothing to lose. I have thought about what could and should be done to stop this kind of thing from happening and the one issue I find disturbing is the fact that newly imprisoned PEOPLE are not segregated based on the nature of their crime- they are all thrown into the same place initially. I could write a book about what appears to be wrong with the prison system and why it does NOT work but one of the most basic issues that could and SHOULD be addressed to PROTECT these people is housing of inmates. Why are first time non-violent offenders housed with individuals who have no chance of ever leaving prison or will be there for a very long time? Why not treat individuals who are new to the system much differently than those who come and go throughout their entire lives? Why not make an impression on first time offenders that they are EXPECTED to turn their lives around and INVEST time and money in rehabilitating them rather than simply housing them? Costs too much? It costs a whole lot more to imprision than it does to rehabilitate. And as for those who rape- put them all together- away from other prisoners. This would probably not stop rape from occuring but I have to believe it would afford some protection to the young, the old, and the ignorant who find themselves in prison.

  10. *********Trigger Warning**********Hardcore Content**********

    You are dead-on with this article. I have heard from Treasury Investigators that they know their efforts frequently end in a mild-mannered accounting-type guy ending up in a prison to be raped to death. “To Death,” in that they frequently can’t take it anymore and check-out, and/or that they contract agressive and multiple strains of HIV, and/or that they contract a highly infectious and deadly strain of “Prison Hep.” Sometimes, they experience such dramatic physical damage, they end-up with Colostomy bags.

    Is THIS what we want as a society? The accounting fraudsters or erroneous taxpayers end up like this?

    But yer right Ozy. No one cares. Que crickets.

  11. It’s even worse than you can imagine:
    Many prisons refuse to distribute condoms on the rationale that inmates shouldn’t be having sex:


    The result is that you are more likely to get HIV in prison than if you’re on the outside.

    Also, has anyone got statistics about prison rape among female inmates? The stereotypes about women’s prison tend to be more pornographic than a source of comedy, but the end result of minimizing the problem is the same.

    • The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released a report on sexual violence in prions and jails. It also included statistics for female inmates. The BJS website is down at the moment ( http://www.bjs.gov/ ) so I can’t now provide a link to the report itself, but here is what I remember (I have previously quoted it extensively in some comments on some blogs):
      As someone mentioned in another comment here male inmates are more likely to experience sexual assault from prison staff – not from other prisoners as one might believe. Even more surprising to some the majority of those prison staff who engage in what the BJS calls “staff sexual misconduct” against male prisoners are women.
      When it comes to female inmates the situation is reversed. They are more at risk from fellow inmates. The vast majority of the surveyed prisons and jails with female inmates were only keeping female inmates. The few coed facilities which were surveyed did not have an above average victimization rate for female prisoners. The majority of staff who were engaging in “staff sexual misconduct” against female prisoners were men.

  12. Mrs Me Reeves says:

    Thank you for sharing this article! I am a prison ministry volunteer and this happens in both the men’s and women’s units. It is so tough to hear the stories and know that everything these guys and gals do to build up self esteem, self confidence and self worth is shattered all too often once they return to the cells. They go in tough, they come out tougher…. and this is one of many reasons why. Thank you again for the story, the awareness.

  13. You must be a lawyer? The bottom line is the system is so freaking messed up and no one wants to address it! Only very good Goverment could change the system and we know that ain’t gonna happen any time soon if ever.

  14. rmyoun06 says:

    “Let’s also not forget that prison rape is unconstitutional because it’s cruel and unusual punishment (both Congress and the Supreme Court have recognized it as such).”

    I disagree with this statement. Rape of inmates by other inmates is not an unconstitutional violation of the 8th Amendment per se. In fact, it can’t be – except under a very few circumstances not applicable here, the actions of private individuals (as opposed to government officials) can never violate the Constitution.

    What is unconstitutional, at least in some circumstances, is the failure of prison officials to take steps to protect inmates from rape. However, such a failure to protect violates the Constitution only where it is the result of “deliberate indifference” or “reckless disregard” of the safety of prisoners on the part of prison officials. This is a high standard to meet, and a simple failure to prevent rape, absent more, is not sufficient.

    I’m writing just to make clear that the Supreme Court’s precedent in this area is not as simple as your statement (as I interpreted it) made the precedent seem.

  15. If you get a chance, watch the TV show series “Lockup Raw” on MSNBC

  16. John Schtoll says:

    h ttp://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,589222,00.html

    This story also illustrates how female prison guards are treated vice male prison guards. If I were a woman this thing would be so insulting, that they are being protrayed as so weak as to not be able to control a prisoner who you actually have 100% control over.

  17. Where a legislature refuses to fund a prison adequately, the resulting barbaric conditions should not be immune from constitutional scrutiny simply because no prison official acted culpably… A punishment is simply no less cruel or unusual because its harm is unintended. In view of this obvious fact, there is no reason to believe that, in adopting the Eighth Amendment, the Framers intended to prohibit cruel and unusual punishments only when they were inflicted intentionally.

    — Justice Blackmun, 1994, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmer_v._Brennan

    Unfortunately, the most recent SCOTUS decision I am aware of dealing with prison conditions basically said that you can be strip-searched before you even go to trial (meaning, while you are still presumed innocent). So I don’t hold out too much hope for reform through the courts any time soon.

    I wonder, what percentage of inmates being subjected to unintentional cruel and unusual punishment would be high enough for SCOTUS to consider it a Constitutional violation?

  18. “That corrections officials often condone prison rape and sometimes even participate in it?”
    “Sometimes” implies that it isn’t normally correction officials behind the sexual assault. It is in fact normally corrections officials.

    • Copyleft says:

      Of COURSE prison rape is a serious problem! Just look at all the studies documenting male guards assaulting and abusing female inmates. It’s utterly intolerable and Something Should Be Done.

      What’s that? There are other kinds of prison rape going on too? Don’t be silly, I’m sure it’s nothing….

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