TRISTAN'S MOON

Rape As Torture: Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)

Institutional sexual assault perpetrators pose a significantly increased risk to community safety upon release from prison (Heil, Harrison, English & Ahlmeyer, 2009). No research has been undertaken to assess the risk to community safety by sexual assault perpetrators working in prisons.

Rape is always torture, says Manfred Nowak, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [www.ohchr.org]. The act of rape becomes powerful precisely because of the contexts within which the acts are perpetrated, experienced and understood.

Immigration detainees may hesitate to report sexual abuse and assaults by staff because they are being held by the same agency that has the power to deport them -- resulting in a fear of retaliatory deportation.

TRISTAN'S MOON art installation (detail)

"Torture" in the USA is legally classified as an extreme form of cruel and inhuman treatment. For an act to constitute “torture” it must satisfy each of the following five elements in the definition of torture:

(1) the act must cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering;

(2) the act must be intentionally inflicted;

(3) the act must be inflicted for a proscribed purpose;

(4) the act must be inflicted by (or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of) a public official who has custody of the victim; and

(5) the act cannot arise from lawful sanctions.


The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003 to ‘provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.’ ***Immigration Detention Facilities fall outside the remit of PREA.

No society wants to admit to being party to male rape. This quiescence leaves survivors isolated (messaging to survivors that society lacks empathy) and rape being seen as a sexual act, rather than the exercise of power and infliction of humiliation and punishment [see, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, 2004].

A report released in June 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that roughly one in ten youth detainees were sexually abused at their current facility in the USA in the past year. A staggering 81 percent of victimized youth were abused by a member of staff, and most were assaulted multiple times [Allen J. Beck et al., Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2013), available at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svjfry12.pdf].


Some reports of abuse at Immigration Detention Centers not forwarded to DHS
. (Nov 21, 2013) by Renee Lewis, Al Jazeera

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has not reported all allegations of sexual abuse and assault that were made in their immigrant detention facilities to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) led to the publishing of standards for the elimination of prison rape that became effective in 2012 and has been a strong impetus for ICE to create a new set of standards.

ICE oversees the largest civil detention system in the U.S., with detainees from almost 200 countries. The vast majority of detainees are held in county or city jails or in private facilities not run directly ICE. Until each of these private facilities contracts are renewed, they will not be bound by ICE’s finalized PREA regulations. This poses a problem because some of the contracts will not be renewed for five to 20 years or will renew automatically without negotiation.


The Impact and Recovery of Prisoner Rape by Robert W. Dumond (A paper presented at the National Conference “Not Part of the Penalty”: Ending Prisoner Rape in Washington, D.C., October 19, 2001). extract

In situations of captivity, the perpetrator(s) often becomes the most important person in the life of the victim. Ironically, as noted by Mariner (2001), sexual victims may be coerced, threatened and intimated into long-term sexual slavery and continuous degradation in order simply to survive. Over time, the perpetrator's actions and beliefs profoundly influence the psychology of the victim (Herman, 1992). Especially in incarcerated settings, victims may experience a systematic, repetitive infliction of psychological trauma, as well as the continuation of terror, helplessness, fear and lack of autonomy.

In addition to the ravages of prison, male sexual assault victims face additional humiliation, which further complicates their potential for recovery. Dumond (1992) reviewed nine (9) key studies which examined the impact of sexual victimization upon males in particular. The vast majority of these studies were conducted in prison/incarceration settings, since few male victims report such abuse in community life. Male victims of sexual assault experience not only the more traditional "rape trauma syndrome" as described by Burgess and Holmstrom (1974, 1975), with its concurrent features of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also a number of other issues which exacerbate the victimization experience (Anderson, 1981; Calderwood, 1987; Mezey & King, 1989).

The “rape trauma syndrome” identified that rape victims can manifest two (2) response styles: “expressive” and “controlled” (Burgess and Holmstrom, 1974a, 1974b). Kaufman, Divasto, Jackson, Voorhees & Christy (1980) noted that 79% of the men sexually assaulted in the community manifested a “controlled”response, characterized by being calm, controlled and/or subdued. This can be very deceptive to correctional staff, who may assume that the overwhelming crisis of a rape should precipitate a more “expressive” response. These staff may subsequently interpret a subdued, emotionless response as evidence that a forced sexual assault did not take place. However, given the dynamics of the prison subculture, and the emphasis on control, aggression and masculinity, it is entirely consistent that most male rape victims in incarcerated settings would be guarded in their overt manifestation of trauma (Wooden & Parker, 1982; Donaldson, 1993).

In the United States, anti-sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, but they are still on the books in 13 states: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

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