Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prison rape remains a tolerated 'terrorism'

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Male-on-male forced sodomy is a rampant part of prison life, accumulating evidence confirms. Yet, its actual magnitude is shrouded by a "conspiracy of hush."

Owing to its insidiousness, the public is widely unaware of its enormous proportions.

According to a report by researchers W. Rideau and R. Wikberg, a "perverse prison subculture" engages in male-male rape that pervades North American incarceration systems.

According to Stop Prison Rape, more than 300,000 males are victimized each year in North America, mostly in the United States where up to one-quarter of the entire male prison population is victimized.

Male-male prison rape is a "global crisis," concluded Phillip Ellenbogen, editor of the Columbia Journal of Law. He suggests that accumulating information indicates possibly millions of victims in North American correctional facilities.

"It is a larger and more widespread problem (in Canada) than people recognize," he concluded after an extensive study.

Despite its prevalence, there is widespread public apathy, often stemming from lack of information.

Stephen Donaldson of Stop Prison Rape explained that the matter of male-male prison rapes is a "taboo subject for public discussion" and that is why it has not been addressed more seriously.

"Male prison rape is the most tolerated act of terrorism in the United States," concluded Rachel Wyatt of Case Western University School of Law. "Prison inmates describe rape as a common event in prison and an accepted part of court-imposed punishment."

"In the United States, it is seen as part of everyday prison life," confirmed Andrew Neilson of the John Howard Society.

Human Right Watch, Amnesty International and other organizations have been partially successful at bringing the matter to public attention; government sources have been comparatively unhelpful in that regard.

In the United States, under pressure from social groups, the Bureau of Justice confirmed 216,600 instances of male-male sexual assault in 2008 and instances are on the rise. According to a report in the New York Review, "very few victims actually report."

"In addition, there is a failure to seriously investigate prisoner's allegations," Ellenbogen concluded.

In Canada, "the subject of prison rape is not well documented," he added. "That is largely because Correctional Services Canada and Statistics Canada do not record occurrences of inmate sexual victimization," which are therefore not available for public scrutiny.

Furthermore, he explained these events "typically occur where there is no prison staff around to see or hear."

According to Gordon Knowles, a specialist at the University of Hawaii, "rape is interpreted as sexual relations with another person obtained through physical force, threats or intimidation." Non-consent is a vital element.

According to Ellenbogen, "the effects of prison rape are devastating." That is chiefly why the United States enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled prison rape is "cruel and unusual punishment." Nonetheless, instance are on the increase.

In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Sec. 12), the Correction and Conditional Release Act (1992) and court rulings impose a duty upon prison officials to safeguard prisoner health and safety.

Canadian corrections officials claim that the risk of male-male prison rape is lessened due to an ongoing program of conjugal visits, in privacy and lasting up to 72 hours, for all prisoners.

But, Craig Jones of the John Howard Society of Canada says conjugal visits do not stem male-male rapes because prison rapes are not done for sexual reasons, but rather as expression of power.

According to Rideau and Wikberg, rape motives are widely misinterpreted, and as a result, remedial measures can be ineffective.

"The pursuit of power via sexual violence is an integral feature of imprisonment," they concluded. "It is not really a sexual act."

Female prison rape is comparatively uncommon in North America, researchers say.

Robert Alison is a zoologist based

in Victoria, British Columbia.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2011 A11

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