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(Trigger warning:  Sexual assault and rape.)

I don't like prison rape jokes.  I've never liked them much, though I have used the description of male-on-male harrassment to try and describe the threatening feel of male-on-female harrassment in reply to men who say "I'd love it if a woman felt me up!".  But I don't think the subject is funny, and I don't think rape should be part of the prison experience.

Thankfully, The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission thinks it isn't funny either.  Amanda Hess has an article in the Washington City Paper (TW: graphic rape and assault descriptions; and don't read the comments!) that has stories from people who have been raped in prison, both by other inmates and by prison officers.  In case you're still thinking "well, they're criminals; what did they expect?" (rape apologism at its finest, btw), one of the people was in jail awaiting trial (for public drunkeness), and had not even been convicted of a crime.  But I don't care how heinous the crime that was committed, rape should not be part of the punishment.

I've heard people (usually men) say that rapists will "get what they gave" when they go to prison, but I'd much rather society take rape as seriously as it takes, say, theft, and stop blaming victims and/or thinking that raping a rapist in jail is somehow just compensation for the victim.  This is vicious regressive thinking, and as one of those victims, I can tell you that it wouldn't give me any satisfaction*. 

The problem? Rapists in prison, just like outside, target vulnerable people for rape.  This means that a disproportionate number of victims are women, gay, or transgender (men make up a much greater percentage of victims in prison, because men make up the majority of prisoners). 

And what about the officers?  More than half the stories told in the article are of guards raping.  Understand that most people in prison are not hardened criminals causing problems, but vulnerable people at the mercy of their guards.  This situation attracts people who enjoy abusing their power over people, and rapists are in that demographic.  A captive population, too afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation, and a system that favours their abusers over the victims?  Sounds peachy.  It's just what those criminals deserve, right? [/sarcasm]

The general public seems to have this idea of prisons as filled with violent offenders and no-one else, but "[The US] nonviolent prisoner population, alone, is larger than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska." I think no-one deserves to be raped, but for those still wavering, consider that the non-violent offenders are also targets of rape - people who are in prison for minor drug possession, people who failed to make child support payments, people who made a dumb mistake that they will never make again.  Even the most regressive supporter of rape (and think about that for a minute, please; you support rape?) cannot think that John Doe, in a Texas prison for having 1oz of MaryJane on him, deserves to be raped?  

For me, jokes about rape in prison are part of the rape culture that permeates society.  It says rape is an acceptable thing in some circumstances.  I feel that once you open the door, then it becomes easier and easier to justify rape (just call it something else, like "misunderstanding signals" when a friend of yours does it, or "the bitch is lying 'cause she got drunk", or anything else that allows you to pretend your buddy didn't really rape someone) in other situations.  Likewise, blaming the victim becomes easier and easier once a demographic is targeted as deserving of rape - the step from "they're in prison; what did they expect?" to "she was drunk and wearing a short skirt; what did she expect?" is much shorter than you think. 

I support the NPREC.  I support human rights organizations trying to eliminate rape in prison.  I think it is unacceptable to condone the rape of anyone.  Yes, I'm a buzzkill, and yeah, but aren't prison rape jokes funny?  Why should we stop making them, it always gets a laugh, right?

Ha, ha, hee, hee. 

Not everyone is laughing.  In fact, most people aren't.  The "joke" justifies rape as an "eye for an eye" situation, but that kind of vengeance has no place in the way our society deals with offenders.  It's why we don't allow parents of murdered children to decide the punishment of the murderer.  It's why "cruel and unusual" punishment is unconstitutional.  We are a vengeful species. 

The trouble with vengeance is that we don't know when to stop.  So the Government (still not perfect, by any means) administers punishment for us.  And I've looked through the lists of punishments the Government condones, and rape?  Not there.  Murder, yes.  Rape?  No.

Rape jokes aren't funny.  They're just not.  1 in 20 prisoners report being raped or sexually abused while behind bars. That's more than 70,000 prisoners a year, according to US Federal statistics. The legacy of rape lasts a lifetime; once you've been raped, the world changes. 

(And no, you don't "get over it".  The effects wax and wane, sometimes unbearable, sometimes able to be pushed to the back on one's mind, but the awareness is never gone.  Never. )

Punishment lasts a set number of years in our society.  Sometimes it's life.  More often, it's only a few months, or a few years.  But, for the 1 in 20 prisoners who are sexually assaulted, the pain will last a lifetime.  And I don't think that's funny or right.  If you don't either, you can sign the Just Detention International petition to support the NPREC's recommendations.


*(I'd much rather have been taken seriously and been treated respectfully by the police and medical personnel who dealt with me afterwards, thanks.)

H/T to Hoyden About Town.



Comments

( 21 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
simsabalim
Apr. 28th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. I've been confronted with "they're in prison, they deserve it" before, and beyond spluttering in frustration and horror, I haven't responded.
wulfsdottir
Apr. 28th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I have the petition marked for review at home, since I'm not allowed to use the work machine for political action. I've already taken on rape apologists once this week, which had about as much effect as removing one grain of sand from a desert, of course.

As awful as the topic is, it's nice to see it addressed in a place where people who take rape seriously are not going to have the entire Derailing for Dummies book used on them.
standgale
Apr. 29th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
There's a lot of people in the world though, and if a lot of people remove a grain of sand...
(Excessively literal example: we have a beach near where I live that many people have taken just a little sand from to put in a sand pit or mix with soil - this has resulted in not only a lot of sand ultimately being removed, but has caused further natural erosion of the beach and coast. So, every grain of sand you remove from the rape apologist beach helps facilitate erosion of said beach! It's true though, that once a process gets enough momentum, it keeps going on it's own, so everything you (we) do helps build that momentum and thus has even more effect than our one simple action)
wulfsdottir
Apr. 29th, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
Very true, and I have every intention of removing a grain here and a grain there, no matter how frustratingly slow the process is.
attack_laurel
Apr. 29th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
As awful as the topic is, it's nice to see it addressed in a place where people who take rape seriously are not going to have the entire Derailing for Dummies book used on them.

Well, we got a sort of one below (though I want to believe it wasn't intentional (which is why I didn't delete it, but let it stand as a chance to address the issue), but yeah. I always stay away from the comments sections of on-line news organizations, because it seems like the trolls lurk, waiting for the chance to trot out their tired old lies.
wulfsdottir
Apr. 29th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't read comments on news stories, either, for the same reason. I took them on in forums for a game. Bunch of kids read that, and they need to be told that it's not okay.
hakerh
Apr. 29th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
You're welcome to delete my comments. As I said, it was unintentional and I'm embarrassed to have stepped on any toes however inadvertently. I'd've deleted 'em myself if it was an option. I hate looking like an ass, especially by accident.
attack_laurel
Apr. 29th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I've explained why I let them stand; it's ok.
msmcknittington
Apr. 28th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
I really appreciate having someone on my friends list who is as articulate as you are about topics like this. You're so awesome and well-spoken.
attack_laurel
Apr. 29th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :)
hakerh
Apr. 29th, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)
I agree with just about everything you said. My only comment would be that I wish society recognized that not all male rape victims have been assaulted by other men. I know several men who would certainly count without a doubt as victims of rape if their genders had been reversed with their attackers. Their experiences range from having abusive female partners who repeatedly bullied them into sex via threats of physical violence and blackmail, to a man who woke up in the middle of the night with a strange woman who had broken into his tent while camping and initiated intercourse. Switch the genders (a woman waking up to find a man forcing himself on her in her own bed!) and everyone would be howling for justice. But there's still a belief that men can't get raped, *especially* by a woman.
attack_laurel
Apr. 29th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
Well, this wasn't that post. There's plenty of posts in the social justice arena that do deal with that. This post was about prison rape, where segregated populations result in almost exclusively male-on-male rape. If you google your subject, you'll find lots of people discussing it seriously, so there's no need to bring it up in a post that is talking about a particular form of rape.

In particular, I seriously object to this part of your comment:

"Switch the genders (a woman waking up to find a man forcing himself on her in her own bed!) and everyone would be howling for justice."

This is so patently untrue that I can't believe you repeated that canard here. Date rape is not taken seriously (where a woman very commonly "wakes up to find a man forcing himself in her in her own bed"), and too many women know the horror of being disbelieved because women's bodies are assumed to be open game.

I find it really distressing that you felt the need to illustrate a real issue that is part and parcel of the rape culture with a patent untruth that is likely to be triggering to anyone who has been date raped. Please don't do so in future.
hakerh
Apr. 29th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
Fair enough. No offense was intended; it's just been a hot button topic among my circle of friends lately.

By the way, I'm female, and a survivor of sexual violence myself... including date rape.
wulfsdottir
Apr. 29th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
And the aforementioned Derailing for Dummies: http://birdofparadox.wordpress.com/derailing-for-dummies-google-cache-reconstruction/

It's a good read for anyone who wants to employ good communication skills in discussions of power and privilege. It is not hand-holdy; it is rather blunt about how entering a conversation to say, "But we need to talk about this other problem that is much more important in my opinion than your little problem over here," is an exercise of privilege in an attempt to make the conversation stop. That is part of what you did here, as attack_laurel mentions in her first paragraph.

The other part, she's already explained in detail.
hakerh
Apr. 29th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Again, fair enough. I hadn't consciously intended to derail the conversation or make it stop. (Since this is, after all, a medium which can host multiple sub-topics or mini-conversations at once.)

I hadn't intended to step on anyone's toes, honestly. I thought the original post was a good read. Sorry for any inadvertent offense.
attack_laurel
Apr. 29th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
I figured you weren't here in bad faith, that's why I let your comment through. But I did want to address it.

In personal blogs, it's the owner's call as to where a thread goes - this isn't a forum, and I have the control. In a post talking about a specific thing, it's the bolg owner's focus that matters. Just FYI.

The more you know *cues music*
wulfsdottir
Apr. 29th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
It seemed unintentional to me, too -- a read through the linked article will be useful in avoiding accidental offense in the future.

A common pattern for talking about additional topics these days is to address the topic at hand and then very briefly ask the blog owner to consider writing about the other topic in a future post. You may find that a useful tool.
hakerh
Apr. 29th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the advice; I appreciate it.
swwoodsy
Apr. 29th, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing about this. I am angry that the prison system does not more adequately address prisoner-on-prisoner rape, but I am absolutely LIVID at the abuse of power and collusion by the prison workers and the blase' attitude of the prison wardens and executives. Nothing makes me crazier than that kind of abuse of power. Yes, the prisoners are there for a reason. Doesn't mean they get to be abused on top of it. And even the unspoken coercion of "I can make your life a living hell and make sure you'll be here longer" makes it rape, no matter if the prisoner protested or not.

Now, on a personal level, I will admit that I am a vengeful, petty, not-really-evolved person, and I won't cry if rapists are raped themselves (instant karma is my favorite). But everyone involved should be prosecuted and punished for the rape. ESPECIALLY if it is a guard, warden, or prison worker who used their position of power to accomplish the rape. And if the warden knew, even peripherally or unofficially, and did nothing, that warden is fully culpable, too.
wulfsdottir
Apr. 29th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
I looked things over and signed the petition last night. The suggested standards are pretty much common sense and basic decency, but apparently they need to be specifically outlined in a way that crowds administrators into taking action.

Our whole justice system needs an overhaul, but this would be a good step in the right direction.
attack_laurel
Apr. 29th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
Word.
( 21 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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