Friday, January 25, 2013

Sexual Violence in Prisons

by Rachael Creger 

            In our nation, there are close to 2.3 million inmates incarcerated at any time. And of these 2.3 million, over 200,000 are sexually abused annually. In 2003, under President Bush, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Six years later, President Obama issued these much-needed standards (Kaiser). One may wonder if this act will really stop this immense issue our nation is facing. The United State’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Statistics continually surveys both prisoners and correctional workers on sexual violence in their prisons. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey reports that sexual violence in state and federal prisons rose 386% between 1980 and 1994. And in 1995, 6% of previously incarcerated prisoners reported experiencing some type of sexual violence during their sentence (Thomas). An article from CNN titled “Study finds nearly 1 in 10 state prisoners is sexually abused while incarcerated” reports that in 2009 the victimization rate of 9.6% was nearly double what it was in 2008, and that female prisoners are victimized three times more than men (“Study”). Because of the higher frequency of sex crimes against female prisoners, I have chosen to focus my research on women. I also saw the focus on women as fitting because we have been talking a lot about women in terms of spirituality in our Ancient Mesopotamia unit.
            Tom Martin has worked in both male and female correctional facilities and wrote about his experiences in these prisons in his book Behind Prison Walls. In his chapter on female inmates he explains, “But even with experience and common sense, more male staff members are likely to destroy their careers being compromised by female inmates than by being physically hurt by them” (92). He continues on to explain the protocol the officers would follow so they would never be left alone with one of the women he calls manipulative or self-centered. Martin made it very clear that many of the correctional staff watch each other’s backs to keep themselves out of any risk of accusations. One may wonder why they have to take such precautions. An article in the Journal of Urban Health explains that inmate-on-inmate sexual violence is not only more prevalent in women, but that it is much more prevalent than officer-on-inmate sexual violence. Wolff and the other authors of this article conducted a survey of 6,964 men and 564 women in state prisons and found that more than 20% of women admit to being a victim of sexual violence; less than 5% of men admitted to being victims (835). Their surveys also indicated that unwanted sexual contact is more prevalent than penetrative rape or sodomy. I’ve included a table from their article that summarizes the different types of sexual acts, consensual and non-consensual that occurs statewide. 

A table taken from Wolff's article in the Journal of Urban Health

Their table is very informative in summarizing a large amount of data. Although they have included many advanced statistics principles that some readers may not fully understand, it clearly demonstrates the higher occurrences of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence; and also the higher rates in women than in men.
            Joycelyn Pollock, author of Sex and Supervision: Guarding Male and Female Inmates used her research and surveys to cross reference with what previous studies had concluded. In her first Appendix she featured a chart of authors of previous studies, what they concluded and if her research agreed or disagreed. I’ve included a reproduction of an excerpt of her appendix’s section on behavior differences.

Author(s) of study
Finding of study
More assaults among women
McKerracher, Street and Segal
More acting out types of behaviors among women
Lombroso, Thomas, Pollak, and Knopka
Women in prison more masculine
Giallombardo, Tittle, Ward, and Kassebaum
Different needs fulfilled and manifested by male and female homosexuality
Van de Wormer
Masculinity related to homosexual involvement

I found it very interesting that our assigned viewing for this unit, “Shawshank Redemption” came up in Tom Martin’s book. Martin believes that this movie is a poor representation of correctional facility officers, but an accurate depiction of the sexual violence. A small gang in his previous place of employment was referred to as “The Sisters” just like in the movie. The real-life posse operated much like in the movie. He defines them as “predatory homosexual rapists” (57).  It will be interesting to see how this movie parallels Martin’s accounts of dealing with this group in the correctional facility he once worked in.
            Overall many different scholars have different things to say about this horrible problem in our nation’s prison. And many surveys have come up with differing results. We can only hope that with the enacting of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, that these statistics will see a major reduction.

Works Cited

Kaiser, David & Louisa Stannow. Prison Rape: Obama’s Program to Stop It. N.p., Web. 23 Jan 2013.

Martin, Tom. Behind Prison Walls. Boulder: Paladin, 2003. Print.

Pollock, Joycelyn M. Sex and Supervision: Guarding Male and Female Inmates. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986. Print.

“Study Finds Nearly 1 in 10 State Prisoners is Sexually Abused While Incarcerated.” CNN, N.p., 17 May 2012. Web. 23 Jan 2013.

Thomas, Dorothy Q. All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in U.S. State Prisons. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996. Print.

Wolff, Nancy, et al. “Sexual Violence inside Prisons: Rates of Victimization.” Journal of Urban Health 83.5 (2006): 835-48. Print.

Wolff, Nancy, et al. “Six-month prevalence of sexual victimization in statewide correction system.” 2006. JPEG.


  1. This is a really interesting post. I always thought that officer violence on inmates was more common, especially in a women correctional facility but on the contrary, inmate to inmate violence is more common. I think that the federal laws passed will help these instances go down, but in the end, one can't stop the violence because inmates do have their own free will. Inmates usually don't have the best personalities and they usually will conflict with one another. That is why they are in the prison in the first place most likely.

  2. Rachael,
    I really appreciated the amount of research you put into this blog post as well as the use of charts and tables as an alternative way to display your data. This helped make your points more clear to me. What concerned me about your post were the words of Tom Martin that described his work in a female correctional facility. He described women prisoners in a very one-sided, somewhat degrading way and I'm not sure if I would consider him as a reliable source. I understand that he has credibility as he has served in both types of prisons, but I think that he may have been biased towards his own gender.
    However, I have not read this source as thoroughly as you, so please correct me if I am wrong. I really do admire this context post. Good job!