Today, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) released a report that stated that about 60,000 inmates are raped or sexually assaulted each year. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, now has a year to make recommendations to states, and then they have a year to make sure they're meeting these recommendations.
The topic of prison rape is incredibly complex... When you stop to think about it, how many times have you heard jokes in movies and television like "don't drop the soap" or someone "being your bitch?" Or how many times have prison scenes been sexualized (I'm thinking "L Word" right about now) when the under text was definitely sexual violence? When I really started paying attention to how often these things happen, I was shocked to realize that society thinks that it's okay to treat people in prison as less than human. Shocked, but not surprised.
Check out the story that MSN is running about the NPREC's report. It states that prisoners are more likely to be assaulted by staff than by another inmate and suggests "better staff training" as one way to reduce these acts of violence. Excuse me? Are we supposed to expect that staff don't know that it's not okay to rape inmates and some simple training will clue them in? Instead, let's take the time to create an entire paradigm shift in the criminal justice system that demands that are people are treated with dignity and respect. Something tells me that would go a lot farther to end sexual violence in and outside of our prison systems.
I was also concerned at the suggestion that another strategy should be "improved screening to identify prisoners vulnerable to abuse." Guess who these folks are? People who are short, young, gay, or female -- I guess things aren't too different inside the walls of a prison... To me, this puts all of the focus and blame on the survivors of prison rape (again, shocked but not surprised) rather than the people who are committing the crime. As though rounding up all the young, short, gay and female inmates and separating them from their peers would make all the difference. But wait! It wouldn't because somehow they need to be separated from prison staff who are more likely to assault them! Well, now I'm really stumped...
I'm grateful that today's report from the NPREC will shed some light on what's really going on in prisons, as well as sexual violence in general. However, I feel pessimistic that any immediate action will truly focus on the elimination of prison rape -- again, that paradigm shift -- instead of some written policies that will be considered all of the action necessary.
What do you think?