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.