Prison rape ignored in Britain

Here in the United States prison rape comes as an expected consequence of incarceration. The public accepts that a large portion of those imprisoned, mostly males, will suffer sexual violence. For some, this expected sexual violence prompts little concern. The  general attitude hovers somewhere between total indifference to tacit gratification for inmates’ “punishment.”

In other countries prison rape does not carry the level of acknowledgment. For instance, in Britain some appear to believe prison rape rarely occurs. The reality may differ:

British jails are failing to investigate serious allegations of male rape, according to the prisons ombudsman.

Stephen Shaw’s concerns, which are expressed in a report into the alleged rape of a prisoner who had Asperger’s syndrome and learning difficulties, are likely to place a new focus on a subject that is hardly ever discussed within the prison system.

One governor told the Howard League for Penal Reform that it was not an issue and was raised only by people who had seen “too much Prison Break“. But the Howard League, which is investigating two cases of alleged rape in prison, warns that there are scores of incidents each year that need investigation.

“The issue of rape in prison is one which barely receives any attention in this country, whereas in the United States it is seen as part of everyday prison life,” said Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League. “American prison gangs routinely use rape to enforce discipline and humiliate other prisoners. No one is claiming that we have that kind of problem in the UK, but the official line that prison rape is almost unheard of here seems highly unlikely.

“As we jail more and more men for longer and longer, it is naive to suggest that rape is not part of the violence and tension that is endemic in our overpopulated prisons.”

Indeed, it does seem naive to assume prison rape does not occur in British prisons. While Britain does not incarcerate nearly as many men as the United States does, it does incarcerate enough people without much oversight or any systems in place to handle complaints about violence that it seems unlikely that prison rape does not occur.

Cases like the one mentioned in the article highlight the problem:

According to Shaw’s report, prisons are failing to conduct investigations. His comments are made in an official report into the case of “Mark”, a 21-year-old man with Asperger’s syndrome, learning difficulties and a history of self-harm, who was remanded to Altcourse prison in Liverpool in 2007. It was recommended that Mark, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, be remanded into a psychiatric unit, but there were no places available.

Despite his vulnerable nature, he was placed on a wing with sex offenders and was allegedly raped by a cellmate who had attempted to assault him several weeks earlier. He attempted to throw himself off a prison landing shortly after the alleged incident and is now in a psychiatric unit.

The article does not mention what led to Mark’s incarceration. One could assume he committed a sex offense given where he got placed. That would provide at least some justification for housing him with sex offenders. If he did not commit a sex crime, what the prison did to him smacks of wanton cruelty. Nothing justifies placing someone with Mark’s problems in that kind of environment, and certainly not if committed something other than a sex offense. The investigation into Mark’s case unfortunately hit a road block.  Apparently the files concerning his case went missing, and according to Mark’s mother the prison officials changed Mark’s mattress and clothes after the rape occurred.

Her statements suggest a cover-up, something partially backed by Stephen Shaw’s report:

Shaw’s report into the affair concludes: “It is critical that the lessons are learned and acted upon, to safeguard the welfare of vulnerable young prisoners … This is by no means the only occasion when I have found that the prison authorities have considered their own duty to investigate discharged by a police investigation that has not been continued.”

Shaw’s report also states: “The director decided that there would be nothing further to gain from an internal investigation. I am not persuaded that this was right… An investigation could have considered the appropriateness of his original placement and whether procedures were correctly followed then and after his attempted suicide.”

It gets worse:

According to figures released by the government in response to parliamentary questions, there were 119 allegations of sexual assault in prison in 2008, but only 33 were subject to a PSO1300 investigation.

In other words, of the handful of cases that do get reported, less than a third receive any substantive investigation. That goes beyond simple oversight. Someone made a deliberate decision not to investigate sexual assaults against inmates.

In situations involving this sort of institutional violence, the lack of support from those in charge creates and perpetuates the problem. If prison officials addressed reports and created a support network to protect victims from any retaliation should they report their assaults, the prison officials could reduce the actual rate of prison rape. By ignoring it, the officials not only force victims to suffer in silence and fear, but they also cause more rapes to happen. Doing nothing does not fix the problem, nor does pretending no problem exists.

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13 thoughts on “Prison rape ignored in Britain

  1. Why should these officials be viewed any differently to the Catholic Church?

    They should not be viewed differently, but prison rape does not evoke the same outrage. Even if it did, I doubt much would happen to address the problem. For instance, in every Western country where sex abuse by Catholic priest occurred no one has attempted to file obstruction charges against the Church. In the US we are talking about tens of thousands of cases, yet the Catholic Church operates just as it always has. And this follows their admission that they withheld information about child rape.

    If we give them a pass, imagine what we would do for government-run institutions like prisons and the foster car system.

  2. Given the extremely high statistics for rapes in America, statistics which are no doubt underestimates due to the lack of willingness for victims to report the crimes, and the lack of willingness for officials to listen, I can only assume that it would also be a significant problem here in the UK.

    The fact that is accepted in the US is disgusting, but at least it is recognised as occuring, and there are statistics for it. I have searched for a while and have yet to find any statistics for prison rape in Britain.

    The British government have either not made the statistics public, meaning they are under no pressure to do anything about them, or have actually failed to even investigate this issue in a systematic manner. This is truly outrageous.

  3. Well several people I know at work who have spent years in prison told me they never saw or heard of anything like that happening… they said it’s just an American thing.

    Of course there will be isolated cases, but not like in the US.

  4. Kris, I doubt that it is isolated. This sort of violence occurs in most prisons around the world. What likely occurs is that inmates are unwilling to report it and may be ashamed or embarrassed if they were assaulted. This is fairly common with male victimization. Most male victims never talk about their abuse. They may even deny it if asked about it. That does not mean boys and men do not get abused or that sexual violence against males is rare. The same applies to prison rape. Just because people do not talk about it does not mean it occurs in isolated cases.

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  7. The fact that the Guardian chose to focus on a victim with Asperger’s Syndrome highlights the central problem with English prisons (can’t speak for Scotland Wales and Ireland, they fall under different Governments if not different legal systems) – prison guards are expected to be mental health workers and counsellors in adult jails and social workers in youth offending or secure units (The UK Juvenile Hall equivalents) – not an issue for American prisons, where guards just get to, well, guard, because the psychiatric hospital services have not been taken apart by successive governments over time (and if they have, correct me if I’m wrong – certainly not to the extent of England).

    The Howard League also failed to do any real research, they could have spoken to any actual current or former prisoner who would have told you that outside of offenders targeting the vulnerable as in the quoted case, that rape was a punishment that could have been as much about debts being owed or disrespect being given, in fact the TV station Channel 4 made one drama (Buried) and one documentary that interviewed a prisoner whose words were narrated by an actor (Scars), both of which showed this was the case.

    So I disagree that it’s “ignored” in England but certainly under-reported and as TS says, when reported, generally mismanaged. The fact that the current government (elected a month after this post, last year) wants to cut more prison officers, means it’s only going to get worse before this recession is properly over. Instead of trying to hang it on prison staff, the Howard League could actually try to come up with solutions but there’s no press attention for their agenda and cause if they do that, so they’re part of the problem in my view

    As TS mentioned, if the victim didn’t commit a sex crime himself before going on a wing full of sex offenders, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, the same as putting a non-white prisoner in with a Neo-Nazi, (another real-life case which ended in murder). Again, that would fall under mismanagement and chronic lack of resources if no psychiatric unit could take him. However we can’t also pretend that any such attack would not have happened had “Mark” received the referral to the correct place for his condition.

  8. I spent six years out of an eight year prison sentence in British prisons some of it on a lifers wing in Nottingham and not once did I hear of anyone being raped. It doesn’t really happen that much at all and if you did something like this you would be seriously beaten by the other inmates a nonce is a nonce and american inmates are sick and think its good to do this and the screws also think its funny as well.

  9. I spent nearly 6 years out of an 8 year sentence in various long term english prisons and I only ever heard of it happening once and even this had happened before I had arrived at HMP nottingham. Apparently 3 inmates had got another guy drunk on hooch and raped him. I don’t know for sure if it were true or not but when I arrived there it was still a lifer’s unit which was being changed into a remand centre and you would think in a prison where 90% of the inmates were doing life sentences that it would be endemic but it wasn’t not at all. You see in british prisons homosexuality is frowned upon and even if you are gay I would reccomend keeping it to yourself not because you will get raped but because of ridicule and a possible beating. Over here a nonce is a nonce be it in or out of nick we don’t like it and you’ll also find that in adult uk prisons bullying is also frowned upon and not really allowed to go on either not in the open anyway. And just another short note to tell you my friend once said he had been raped at a previous prison just so they would give him a single cell. I kid you not prison rape very rarely does happen in our prisons and to suggest there is some kind of cover up is just plain wrong. Over here we like our time to be easy and it is. The usa can keep their ultra violent prisons and why the hell hasn’t human rights watch investigated.

  10. I’m sorry some of my comments about HMP nottingham above in the posts iv left but I have only just remembered about the incident supposedly happening. All I have to add is that if its true what they say about american prisons then this is a human rights abuse that needs to be stamped out and the men who commit these crimes against other inmates just because they are physically weaker are sick and need beating half to death followed by a full castration these monsters are evil and people joke about it in the U.S !!!

  11. Louis, I doubt that prison rape does not happen in British prisons. Whether people will talk about it is a different matter. If the response to people talking about it is as hostile as you claim, that would explain why there are so few reports about it. Who would want to come forward if no one would believe them and it put them at risk of being attacked for being “homosexual”?

  12. id like to add..i know off 2 people who were raped in prison. one in a young offenders who was put in a straight jacket and raped by 7 prison officers . And one who was raped by at least 3 different inmates.

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