There are a lot of tales about sexual violence in American prisons today. Some research studies have helped understand this phenomenon (Knowles, 2005; Mariner, 2001; Steffensmeier, Feldmeyer, Harris, & Ulmer, 2011; Wynn, 2002). Knowles (2005) posits that the main cause of the prison rape “is the deprivation of basic human needs existent in the state of imprisonment and the need to find substitute gratification.” Sociologists and psychologists support Knowles’ view that sex is a basic need. As a result, if people are deprived of sex, they are bound to pursue other channels for its satisfaction (Macionis & Linda, 2011). Other causes for the high incidences of the prison rapes are overcrowding, presence of criminal gangs in prison, genetic predisposition to homosexuality, and the structure of the prison (Knowles, 2005). Another cause of the prison rape is the absence of proper custodial supervision. Of noteworthy mention also is the use of male prison rape as the means of asserting power (Mariner, 2001). Such rape is linked to the violence influenced by black racism. Its main goal is to humiliate the white victim (Knowles, 2005).
Research has suggested some ways of resolving the problem of the prison rapes. For instance, Hirschi (2002) argues that the prison structure should change. This means that the management systems and conflict resolution mechanisms must improve, in order to stop or minimize the prison violence. Other ways include the introduction of conjugal visits or home furlough programs, isolation of consenting homosexuals, and development and implementation of a classification system, in order to separate inmates into cell blocks.
The No Escape Report gives the story of a Florida prisoner who wrote a letter to Human Rights Watch exposing the extent of the prison rape (Mariner, 2001). The man had been incarcerated for a “driving under the influence” offense. The man recalls how he was first raped by a group of five black men and two white men. Repeated rapes had made him loose physical feelings. His attempts to resist had violent results, including knife cuts on the head and throat. The prison administration had not helped him in any way, and even seemed to propagate the practice. The prisoner indicated that he probably was now suffering from HIV/ AIDS. He had given up all effort of being saved.
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Another prisoner was beaten, and had a serious eye injury after being assaulted by inmates for refusing anal sex. After six months of threats and attacks, the prisoner attempted to commit suicide by cutting his wrists using a razor. Again, the prison authorities could not protect him from the abuse (Sivakumaran, 2005). There are many cases like these in prisons. Worse still is that, due to the stigma associated with homosexuality, many victims decided not to tell their experiences (Sargent, 2010).
In this paper, sexual violence is synonymous to rape. Rape refers to the unlawful act of having sexual intercourse with another person by the use of force (Wynn, 2002). Such force may take the form of threats or violence. O’grady (2011) defines the prison rape as the rape that occurs in prison. This is usually the rape of inmates by other inmates. In few instances, prison rape has referred to raping of inmates by staff or raping of staff by inmates (Wynn, 2002). The prison rape referred to in this paper involves male inmates.
Studies that have been done have revealed astounding prevalence of sexual abuse in prisons. For instance, a study of prisons in Midwestern states established that 20 percent of male inmates faced pressured or forced sex incidents, while incarcerated (Steffensmeie et al., 2011). In the study, approximately nine percent of the male inmates revealed that they had been raped. Also, studies have established that youth in detention face frequent abuse. These are especially juveniles that are incarcerated with adults. They face five times more likelihood to report sexual assault than the ones in juvenile facilities (Mariner, 2001). This fact has been successfully correlated with the rate of juvenile suicides. In 2009, the rate of juvenile suicides in adult correction facilities was “7.7 times higher than that of juvenile detention centers” (Steffensmeie et al., 2011). Nevertheless, this rate is likely to increase with the recent trend of trying juveniles as adults.
A study of the Nebraska prison system echoed the above findings by establishing that 50 percent of inmates reported that they had been submitted to forced sex at least once (Wynn, 2002). Besides, the No Escape Report established that a fifth of all prisoners in the United States of America were facing coercion into sex (Mariner, 2001). The report had collected data from 200 inmates in 37 American jails. It summed up all the findings on inmate to inmate prison rapes to establish that at least 140,000 inmates in the US had been raped.
Causes of Prison Rape
Prisoner’s Behaviors and their Sexual Orientation
The deprivation of sex in prisons is a possible cause of the prison rapes (Macionis & Linda, 2011). This is because some inmates were conditioned to regular sex, when they were free, for instance, in case of married prisoners or those that had stable girlfriends. Being imprisoned means that such learned behavior is immediately extinguished. As behavioral psychologists posit, learning behavior needs time for it is a process (Hirschi, 2002). It is also true that unlearning behavior needs time. Such factors are not taken into account when withdrawal of a stimulus (sex) is immediate. Though extinction of behavior may lead to its unlearning, such a behavior is easily reignited, if conditions allow. In addition, generalization of a stimulus may make the individual pursue alternative behaviors, in this case, homosexuality (Sivakumaran, 2005). The prisoners who were used to normal sex are forced to look for something else in substitute. As a result, they take to homosexuality and rape.
In addition, some prisoners come into jail with divergent sexual orientations. Scientists have proved that homosexuality may be genetically predetermined (Stewart, 2007). This is saying that some people are born homosexual. If such people are incarcerated, they are bound to make others to have sex with them, even if it means rape. In addition, inborn personality traits propagate the prison rape (Mariner, 2001). Inmates who possess feminine characteristics are more likely to be raped than those without (Stewart, 2007). Because behavior is learned, a single case of prison rape is easily replicated by other inmates. This causes prison rapes to increase in today’s world.
Racial and Social Inequality
American prisons are racially integrated institutions. This enables the oppressive characteristics of white-black relations in the society find their way into prisons. Knowles (2005) established that racism is a dominant theme in sexual victimization within American prisons. Sargent (2010) echoed the same position by establishing that rapes were not randomly distributed with respect to race.
Rapes in prisons are not specifically propagated by homosexuals, but rather heterosexuals who want to revenge and show the power. This explains why 90% of prison rapes in the U.S. are inter-racial (Knowles, 2005). The rapes may not only arise from sexual gratification, but also from sexual dominance of one race over another. The majority of the rapes are by blacks raping whites, which suggest that it offers the lower class black society a chance to dominate the upper class white society. This may explain why most victims are young white prisoners.
Besides, blacks view prisons as symbols of the white domination (Hirschi, 2002). This is specifically so to those, who blame their social problems on white dominance. They posit that their current low-class status is because of the evils of the white man, like slavery and racial discrimination. In prison, they get an avenue to settle such old scores by raping the whites.
The Structure and Environment of the Prison System
Knowles (2005) argues that the very structure of the prison causes rape. First of all, prisons are one-sex, closed societies that stop heterosexual activity. As a result, prisoners are forced into deviant behavior like aggressive homosexuality, in order to satisfy their sexual needs. Besides, prisoners, wardens and administrators tolerate deviant sexual behavior. Sometimes, the prison administration is aware of what goes on, but does not take any action. In some cases, warders have been implicated in the practice (Mariner, 2001). Also, there is an insufficient opportunity for work and recreation in prisons, a fact that leaves prisoners with a lot of idle time. If there were avenues to expend energy, inmates would not find time to indulge in deviant sexual behavior. Another factor is the absence of privacy in prison, because of the shared dormitories, cells, showers and rest rooms. This may encourage the indulgence in deviant sexual activities.
Knowles (2005) further argues that, in most prisons, there is no provision for separating sex offenders and homosexuals from other inmates. As a result, sex offenders get easy prey, while homosexuals force or influence others into sex. In addition, sexual deviancy may occur because of the decreased or lack of communication from the outside world. This makes inmates reduce their identification with the sexual norms of the society.
Lack of Supervision
In most prisons, inmates are left on their own without custodial supervision (Wynn, 2002). The prison warder stays at the gate and is not aware of what happens in the cell or dormitory. Thus, “strong” prisoners get a chance to exploit “weak” counterparts. Some inmates even form groups to exert their power on others. The result of this is that crimes, like prison rape, continue to flourish.
For instance, Mariner (2001) gives the story of an inmate who refused to share a cell with another, who always wanted to rape him. The inmate was severely times beaten by the prison warders who did not understand the decline. At the end, he was forced to share the room and was sexually abused. If the authorities could have known what goes on in cells or dormitories, this could not have happened.
Effects of Prison Rape
The effects of prison rape are many. They may involve physiological, psychological, social and/or sexual life of the victim (Stewart, 2007).
Physiological and Psychological Problems
First of all, prison rape is often accompanied by physical injuries. The injuries may arise either from the tools used to threaten (such as knives) or the actual act of rape. Forced anal sex can damage the rectum and lead to loss of bowel control (Stewart, 2007). Other problems are interrupted sleep and eating patterns, mood swings, post traumatic stress disorder, irrational fears, depression and suicide.
Prison rape may lead to the development of traits of inferiority in the victims. This is because of the prison culture that “real men” cannot be raped (Knowles, 2005). The victim may experience constant feelings of regret, shame and self-blame. Such tendencies have led that some inmates committed suicide. On the other hand, the aggressor may be able to receive material goods, sex or other commodities without a fight.
Health Issue of Inmates
The Rate of HIV/AIDS is five to ten times higher inside American prisons than outside (Steffensmeie et al., 2011). Steffensmeie et al. report many cases in which people contracted HIV in prison. Apart from HIV/AIDS, prisoners are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) like gonorrhea, syphilis and Herpes.
This arises from the absence of condoms and other prevention options inside prisons. The aggressors sometimes improvise their own condoms, whose effectiveness is unknown. In addition, even the available condoms are not aimed at anal sex; thus, they may easily tear (Stewart, 2007).
Social and Cultural Impacts
Prison rape interrupts male-female relationships. This is due to loss of physical feelings, forced change to homosexuality, shame, post traumatic stress disorder, and so forth. This may lead to failed marriages and divorce. In other cases, victims may decide not to marry.
The victims of rape may acquire violent tendencies, which they may use outside the prison. For instance, they may decide to rape others in order to revenge. In fact, there are cases where victims have attacked and killed the aggressors (Hirschi, 2002).
Besides, prison rape changes the cultural position ascribed to man. It also promotes the gender related bias. This is because the act symbolizes “stripping a man of his manhood” (Knowles, 2005). This view is based on male chauvinism, a belief which leads to the continued subjugation of the woman in the society.
This theory predicts and explains the way people define and react to deviant (Macionis & Linda, 2011). One example of social control is self-help, which refers to expressing grievances by unilateral aggression like violence or property destruction. Hirschi (2002) believes that self-help was replaced by the law in the Middle Ages. However, the social control theory at large has survived in anarchical or lawless societies.
The social control theory is pivotal in understanding the prison rape. Most prisons lack custodial supervision. This enables a lawless and anarchical environment to thrive. This environment makes inmates to use self-help in order to resolve their differences. For instance, the perceived white dominance and exploitation in the outside world is punished using sexual violence in the prison. The aggressors feel that the white victims deserve the rape, for they are guilty. The social control theory is also useful in explaining how inmates may punish wrongdoing among themselves by using rape.
The theory posits that being labeled “deviant” leads an individual to engage in deviancy (Macionis & Linda, 2011). This means that behaviors are determined by the terms that are used to describe individuals. The theory is closely related to the ideas of stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecy.
In prison rape, the aggressor is not called a “homosexual”, but rather a “real man”. This label grants power to the aggressor, and he can pursue other forbidden acts. In fact, other prisoners add power to the aggressor by fearing him. On the other hand, labeling the victim as “homosexual” makes him a real homosexual. The force used for the rape is not taken into account, and the victim is labeled as a homosexual. Eventually, the victim accepts his new identity. This leads other inmates to demand sex from the new homosexual.
Solutions and prevention of prison rape lies in changing the prison structure. This entails carrying out landmark amendments of various acts and Code Sections of the United States of America. The passage of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act is a welcome effort. However, further action needs to be done. For instance, there is the need to amend the Prison Litigation Reform Act which hinders individuals and organizations from remedying unlawful conditions in the American prisons. The management systems and conflict resolution mechanisms must be changed, in order to stop or minimize the prison violence.
Besides, the Department of Justice should facilitate change in prisons by developing new programs of dealing with prison rapes. There should be conjugal visits or home furlough programs, in order to enable inmates to satisfy their sexual needs. However, this solution may not fully work, as not all prisoners are legally married or have reached the age of marriage. In addition, some prisoners are too violent to be allowed to spend some time with their wives. On the same note, these visits may not work, as prison rape is more of “power gratification” than “sexual gratification” (Knowles, 2005). Inmate classification and grouping then seems the most viable option. However, because of the racist overtones that male prison rape has, the classification and grouping of inmates should also be racial.
There should be custodial supervision to inmates, for instance, using Closed-Circuit Television Networks. Also, prisons should introduce recreational and income generating activities to inmates, in order to avoid idling. In addition, prisons should separate inmates by sexual category. This is saying that the sexual deviant should be placed away from other inmates.
Lastly, victims of prison rape should receive treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, physical injuries and emotional trauma. Such treatment should involve physicians, counselors and psychologists in order to help prison rape victims. Besides, even the aggressors need treatment.