Prison rape needs to be acknolwedged as a crime

In the United States, according to official statistics from 2008, over 216,000 prisoners were raped in one year.

Similarly, over 9.6 per cent of the prison population will be raped during the duration of their stay. These figures are likely far lower than the actual numbers due to the multitude of unreported incidents, with unofficial estimates putting it between 14 and 23 per cent of prison victims at least.

In Canada, there is less of a perception of prison rape as common and statistics are harder to find, but it is still a prevalent issue. Prison rape is something that is often joked about and depicted in movies and television as a simple fact of life in the penal system. While some shows like Oz and Prison Break have depicted this topic with the appropriate level of darkness that it deserves, many other shows and movies use it as a source of comedy.

While I would never advocate censorship and I don’t believe any topic should be off limits for jokes. In this particular case however, the sheer amount of jokes regarding rape in prison are highly indicative of society’s attitudes toward it: that it is a laughing matter.

The idea largely stems from the notion that it’s a form of karmic justice or an ironic twist of fate that dishes out punishment in an unofficial form, on top of the official form of punishment that prison itself embodies.

While all sexual assault should be condemned, what makes prison the attacks in jail important to focus on is that it is sometimes defended along the lines that it is the justly deserved punishment of prisoners. While the tolerance of rape culture in society is also an important issue, rape in prison needs to be focused on within its own specific context.

There are many who would never defend rape in any other circumstance, but regard the  same act against prisoners as a type of just desserts. Through this mentality, prison rape is part of a package deal of sentencing. You do the time, and you go through the trials and tribulations necessary to drive in the punishment, including potentially being raped by other prisoners.

This mentality is barbaric and has no place in the modern era.

Regardless of who a prisoner is, whether they’re in jail for something minor or as major as murder or even for sexual assault, prison rape should never be tolerated by the prison officials, nor by society at large. In addition to the fact that prison rape is defended by many who would not tolerate sexual assault in any other circumstance, what makes prison rape important to be focused on is its institutionalized nature.

It occurs at rampant rates within the confines of a government-run facility. It is tolerated and ignored by prison officials to the point where it could almost be considered an officially sanctioned part of going to prison. While it would be impossible to eliminate prison rape completely, short of absurdly totalitarian measures, the sheer prevalence of these instances shows that there is a tolerance of prison violence that exists amongst many of the guards.

Similarly, it exists among prison officials and more indirectly, across society at large. While prison is meant to be punishment, rape should never be a part of that punishment.

A prison sentence involves doing time for a crime, time away from society, away from one’s family and friends, confined in one building, lacking many of the freedoms that normal life involves.

What a prison sentence should not involve is being raped.
letters@thecord.ca

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