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.