Date Submitted:
03/18/2011 03:22 AM
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Assault Behind Bars

Assault Behind Bars   How big a problem is prison rape — and what can be done about it?   Los Angeles Times   The unusual thing about this incident was not that Lockyer made a crude joke about prison rape. It’s that he caught flak for it. While jokes about male-on-female rape are widely viewed as taboo in this feminist age, male-on-male rape in prison is a perfectly acceptable and common subject of humor on late-night comedy shows, in movies, and even in TV commercials.

The reality, of course, is considerably less funny. It includes tragic cases such as that of Rodney Hulin, a 17-year-old inmate who hanged himself with a sheet in 1996 after prison officials repeatedly ignored his complaints of rape and other sexual abuse. Hulin’s parents collected a $215,000 settlement from the state of Texas three years later.   A few years ago, a coalition ranging from Amnesty International to Focus on the Family began a push for measures to curb prison rape. In 2003 Congress held hearings on the issue and passed the Prison Rape Reduction Act, which directed state prison systems to collect statistics on sexual violence against inmates and to report on steps taken to reduce it.   The activists are up against a lot of social indifference. As prison-rape humor demonstrates, there is a widespread lack of sympathy for the victims, who are, after all, convicted criminals—even though rape wasn’t a part of their sentence. While you would have to scrape the bottom of the Internet to find people saying that the fear of sexual assault is a good deterrent to would-be lawbreakers, it is safe to say that prison rape is not a high priority for most American voters.

Yet even with the will to do something about it, prison rape may be uniquely difficult to address. It’s a challenge even to get a reliable estimate of its prevalence. Activists argue that rape in American prisons is an endemic problem, with as many as 200,000 or 300,000 rapes behind bars every year. Other experts question those…

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