Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Prison Rape is Not a Laughing Matter
It’s time to talk about an unpopular topic - namely, prison rape. In a way, this is the last frontier; people who would never dream of making any other kind of rape joke feel totally fine laughing and saying “don’t drop the soap!” People who wouldn’t dream of advocating any other sort of rape will openly say “I hope he gets raped in prison.”
Because the addendum to that - sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken - is “...so he knows what it feels like.” The assumption is that the people who get raped in prison are exclusively rapists and child molesters.
To show you why giving prison rape a pass appalls me so much, I’ll give you some examples of who gets raped in prison. Hint: generally not rapists.
* When Rodney Hulin was sixteen he set a dumpster on fire, causing about $500 worth of damage. He was 5’2”, he weighed 125 pounds, and he was sentenced to eight years in adult prison. Almost immediately after arriving he was raped by another inmate, as was confirmed by a medical examiner’s finding that his rectum was torn. His mother’s testimony to the commission describes how he wrote to the authorities asking to be moved to a safer place, and how his request was denied. The beatings and rapes continued. He wrote another letter, saying he was afraid “I might die at any minute. Please sir, help me.” Officials told him that his case did not meet the “emergency grievance criteria.” His mother called the warden, who told her that Rodney needed to “grow up.” “This happens every day,” he said, “learn to deal with it. It’s no big deal.” Less than three months after entering prison, Hulin hanged himself in his cell.
* Keith DeBlasio was sent to a minimum-security federal prison in West Virginia for fraud, but transferred to a higher-security facility in Michigan after complaining about corrections officials. There he was placed in a dormitory holding 150 inmates that had dozens of places that could not be observed and only one officer on duty at a time. A gang leader who had just served three days in segregation for brutally assaulting another inmate was made DeBlasio’s bunkmate; according to DeBlasio’s testimony before the commission, he raped DeBlasio “more times than I can even count” while fellow gang members stood watch. DeBlasio contracted HIV as a result.
* “I’ve been raped, physically beaten, extorted, pimped out/sold, intimidated, manipulated, threatened, humiliated, [and] harassed by both officers and inmates” writes transgender prisoner Meagan Calvillo of her experiences in various California prisons since 1999. Calvillo’s description is not unusual. Outside of prison, transgender people are among the most marginalized in the United States; inside it, they confound a system that’s ill-prepared to serve them, or even to decide where to put them.
So who’s actually getting raped? Generally nonviolent offenders. Usually younger people on their first offense. Disproportionally huge numbers of transgendered people.
And who’s raping them?
Who do you think?
By creating a culture where we give prison rape a pass, we are creating a culture where rapists can continue to get away with rape. Where even when they’re convicted, they’re put somewhere where they get to commit rape over and over, this time with the indifference of everyone in authority. Sometimes with the encouragement of authority. Sometimes with the assistance of authority.
And if you’re okay with prison rape, that “everyone” letting the rapist get away with this? That would include you.
I’ve lost friends over my insistence that “I hope he gets raped in prison” is not an okay thing to wish or say. For the reasons above and in all of those posts. But even more:
Either you believe rape is okay or you don’t.
Either you believe that rape is sometimes warranted, is a legitimate form of justice - or you don’t.
Rape is not a grey area. Rape is wrong. That means all rape is wrong. We don’t need to end rape and rape culture just a little bit. Or mostly. Or almost-all. We need to end it period.
Because as long as people think that rape is sometimes justifiable, it’s going to keep happening.