Prison rape: a silent tragedy

David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow have a great piece up in the New York Review of Books on an issue that is not taken seriously enough, and often laughed at, while ruining the lives of thousands – prison rape. An extract:

Back in 1998, Jan Lastocy was serving time for attempted embezzlement in a Michigan prison. Her job was working at a warehouse for a nearby men’s prison. She got along well with two of the corrections officers who supervised her, but she thought the third was creepy. “He was always talking about how much power he had,” she said, “how he liked being able to write someone a ticket just for looking at him funny.” Then, one day, he raped her.

Jan wanted to tell someone, but the warden had made it clear that she would always believe an officer’s word over an inmate’s, and didn’t like “troublemakers.” If Jan had gone to the officers she trusted, they would have had to repeat her story to the same warden. Jan was only a few months away from release to a halfway house. She was desperate to get out of prison, to return to her husband and children. So she kept quiet—and the officer raped her again, and again. There were plenty of secluded places in the huge warehouse, behind piles of crates or in the freezer. Three or four times a week he would assault her, from June all the way through December, and the whole time she was too terrified to report the attacks. Later, she would be tormented by guilt for not speaking out, because the same officer went on to rape other women at the prison.

Whether it’s women or men who are raped and molested, it’s a tragedy that so many people are forced to suffer in silence. It’s estimated that 4.4% of inmates were raped or sexually assaulted in US prisons every year. While the raw figure – 7,444 in 2008 – seems small, apply that to the entire population of the United States (roughly 308 million people) and we’re talking about over 13.5 million rapes per year. Just imagine that – of any group of 25 inmates, one will almost certainly have been raped, molested or sexually assaulted.

But, of course, we continue to make jokes about bending over to pick up the soap in the shower. What classy, intelligent people we are.

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