Why Prison Rape Goes On

Chandra Bozelko, a former inmate, has an op-ed in the New York Times titled, ‘Why We Let Prison Rape Go On,’ in which she explores why, even 12 year since the Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed, sexual assault in American prisons remains so widespread.

Ultimately, prisons protect rape culture to protect themselves. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about half of prison sexual assault complaints in 2011 were filed against staff. (These reports weren’t all claims of forcible rape; it is considered statutory sexual assault for a guard to have sexual contact with an inmate.)

I was an inmate for six years in Connecticut after being convicted of identity fraud, among other charges. From what I saw, the same small group of guards preyed on inmates again and again, yet never faced discipline. They were protected by prison guard unions, one of the strongest forces in American labor.

Sexualized violence is often used as a tool to subdue inmates whom guards see as upstarts. In May 2008, while in a restricted housing unit, or “the SHU” as it is commonly known, I was sexually assaulted by a guard. The first person I reported the incident to, another guard, ignored it. I finally reached a nurse who reported it to a senior officer.

When the state police arrived, I decided not to talk to them because the harassment I’d received in the intervening hours made me fearful. For the same reason, I refused medical treatment when I was taken to a local emergency room.

Subsequent interviews with officials at the prison amounted to hazing and harassment. They accused me of having been a drug user, which was untrue, and of lying about going to college, though it was true I had. The “investigation,” which I found more traumatic than the assault, dragged on for more than two months until they determined that my allegation couldn’t be substantiated. The law’s guidelines were followed, but in letter not in spirit.

I was also a witness in a case in which an inmate claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a guard and then told me she’d made it up. I reported her — and this time, I was perfectly credible to an investigator, who praised me for having a conscience and a clear head.

The Justice Department estimates that the total bill to society for prison rape and sexual abuse is as high as $51.9 billion per year, including the costs of victims’ compensation and increased recidivism. If states refuse to implement the law when the fiscal benefit is so obvious, something larger is at stake.

3 thoughts on “Why Prison Rape Goes On

  1. I write to a man I’ve never met in an Oklahoma private prison. His ex asked him to take their 15 yr. old daughter because she was dating a drug dealer and the mother said she was “out of control”. The daughter told her father she didn’t have to listen to him and he couldn’t make her stay away from her boyfriend. The father tried. The daughter told her father “you’ll be sorry”. She ended up lying and saying he sexually abused her. The father, who never had any criminal record, is in prison many years. I got to know him because of a support group for families of the falsely accused. This happened to my son in Baltimore, who also had no prior record. The child was in one of Baltimore’s worst neighborhood (drugs and prostitution). Her mother and older sister were drug addicts and prostitutes. My mentally ill and naive son was in love with her older sister who he wanted to help get off drugs and marry. Her younger sister, the accuser, got older and finally told the truth, that my son did “nothing” to her. Why did she do it? She was jealous of the attention he gave to her older sister and was trying to think of ways to get him away from her. The sister was, no doubt, using him. The child said she was given the idea by her grandmother and another woman who didn’t like my son’s looks and said they believed he was too friendly and must be abusing children.
    These kind of cases are swift when they happen but extremely difficult to undo. Many prosecutors call them “easy wins”

    I worry about my friend because I know this kind of violence happens. I hate that men make jokes about it. I’m sure they wouldn’t laugh if they were there and had to fear the reality of it.

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