Sustained Outrage

Unwanted sex behind bars

A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2007-2008, paints a grim picture of sexual assault and abuse behind bars. According to the report, the number of total allegations increased 19 percent — from 6,241 to 7,444 — between 2005 and 2008, the last year figures are available. Allegations of inmate-on-inmate abusive sexual contacts account for 2/3 of that increase.

In addition, prisons account for most of the increase between 2005 and 2008. Allegations in state prisons increased by 20 percent, while allegations in federal prisons jumped 37 percent (although the federal prison population is much, much smaller).

Of course, there’s a big difference between an allegation and a substantiated rape or assault. While the overall number of substantiated allegations has remained pretty steady, increasing by 5 percent between 2005 and 2008, the number of verified claims in prisons — state and federal — has grown by 24 percent over the same period. In 2008, 12.5 percent of all total allegations were substantiated, or one in eight.

Of the substantiated incidents, 54 percent were inmate-on-inmate, while 46 percent were staff-on-inmate. Of the verified inmate-on-inmate complaints, roughly 12 percent involved two or more assailants. This was more likely to be the case in jails (14 percent) than in prisons (nine percent).

Not surprisingly, women represented a disproportionately large percentage of victims. Women make up only seven percent of the prison population, yet they represented 21 percent of the victims of inmate-on-inmate incidents and 32 percent of the victims in staff-on-inmate offenses in prisons. Similarly, only 13 percent of jail inmates are women, but they were the victims in 32 percent of the inmate-on-inmate and 56 percent of the staff-on-inmate abuses in jails.

All this information comes at a time when the jail and prison population in America is very near its highest numbers ever. (The total of incarcerated prisoners shrank by 0.7 percent in 2009, but the imprisonment rate is still more than 500 inmates per 100,000 Americans, which is very high.)