Christopher Glazer points to the massive rate of male rape in prisons, something we all largely either ignore or joke about and something which there is certainly no political will to change. (Emphasis is mine – SH)
In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.
The FBI recorded 90,479 cases of rape for women in 2008. Many more rapes go unreported and thus unrecorded, of course, but then I suppose many more cases of male rape in prisons went unrecorded too. Statistics are often contradictory but suggest that as many as two thirds of all rapes are never reported. Extend that across the board and its clear the US has a problem – and indeed, America’s recorded rape rate is as much as thirteen times higher than other developed nations.
Glazer wants to blame a corrupt prison culture for the massive number of male rapes there, and certainly that rape can be done with impunity there has a lot to do with it. My daughter is a prison guard, as are a few friends, and what they tell me is anecdotal support for what Glazer writes:
anybody is free to commit rape and be reasonably assured that no state official will notice or care (barring those instances when the management knowingly encourages rape, unleashing favored inmates on troublemakers as a strategy for administrative control). The prison staff is above the law; the prison inmates, below it. Far from embodying the model of Bentham/Foucault’s panopticon— that is, one of total surveillance—America’s prisons are its blind spots, places where complaints cannot be heard and abuses cannot be seen.
As one prisoner wrote, “Sadism results from there being no possibility of real accountability,” and that’s really the key to the whole thing, whether in prison or among pampered and sheltered jock “rape crews”. It’s a massive problem that is not necessarily rooted in oppressing any one gender, but rather in our society’s cultural blinkers, our wish to turn away. We as a society have an empathy gap, one that also allows us to ignore the deaths of innocents at the hands of our military, under our government’s orders, in far-off lands.
So, what can we do about changing that?