My guest editorial about prison rape was published in the Herald-Times last week. When I was trying to find an article to link in the comments about how women are vulnerable to abuse as well as men (I found the article) I stumbled across a horrific article about a prisoner that had been sexually tortured by a prison guard. I was literally nauseated to the point that I was close to vomiting. Then I got angry.
I have written about the human rights crisis in American prisons before, back in 2009 and again in 2011. Every time I look into this issue, I become more horrified. I cannot understand how anyone could think this is “funny” or that anyone (even the worst criminal) “deserves” this kind of abuse.
Our lack of effort in protecting our prisoners has foreign policy implications, because our hypocrisy is just incredible. We lecture Red China and other nations about the treatment of their prisoners (as well we should) but we look the other way when it happens domestically. When we try to intervene on behalf of abused prisoners in other nations, they can point back at us and the terrible human rights record we have in our prisons.
It is not only a public policy issue, but a cultural problem as well. Prison rape is a subject of jokes both online and in pop culture, as if the savage abuse of prisoners is a punch line. A 1989 Charles Bronson movie in ended with a strong implication that a villain who sold young girls into sex slavery would soon be raped in prison. (This is another example of Hollywood’s right wing fantasy world.) There was a really depraved 7-UP commercial about a decade ago making light of it. 7-UP eventually pulled the commercial after bad publicity.
But this is not a joke and it is certainly not “justice.” It is a brutal reality. Inmates sexually abuse each other and prison guards sexually abuse inmates. The perpetrators often get little more than a slap on the wrist for their crimes and the prisoners fear retaliation if they report the assaults – and that fear is intensified when the rapist is a guard.
The families of those inmates have to deal with the aftermath of those assaults and the permanent damage done, and those families are often helpless to protect their loved ones as they face this injustice. We all become less safe when an abused inmate re-enters society filled with resentment and anger over the abuse he has suffered. We’ve allowed this to go on far too long and we need to get serious about stopping it.