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Although inmates are adults, they cannot legally give consent to sex because they are under the legal custody of the state. This means that correctional officers who have sex with inmates are sexual abusers.
Sadly, the nature of incarceration leads to the coverup of these types of crimes for a variety of reasons, including shame, imbalances of power, and outright fear.
Who Is More Likely to Be Sexually Assaulted in Prison?
Sexual assault in prison can and does happen to anyone. Men and women alike experience devastating sexual attacks while behind bars and suffer lifelong consequences as a result.
However, certain members of the prison population tend to suffer more sexual abuse from guards and other inmates than others, with the gender of the inmate not always being a factor.
According to various data, the members of the vast prison population in the U.S. more likely to be subject to sexual abuse are those who are the most vulnerable members of society on the outside, including:
- Gay individuals;
- Transgender individuals;
- Mentally ill individuals;
- Younger individuals.
Additionally, first-time incarcerated individuals typically also face a significant threat of sexual abuse as well as those individuals who are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. But as mentioned, no category of individuals is 100% safe from abuse.
Why Do Correctional Officers Sexually Assault Inmates?
Numerous reasons exist why a corrections officer might sexually assault an inmate:
- Power Inequality: The imbalance of power between inmates and guards makes abuse more likely to happen.
- Private Areas with No Camera Access: Many prison sexual assaults occur in areas where no camera or other surveillance exists. These dead zones provide both temptation and opportunity for abuse.
- Inmates’ Fear of Repercussions: Inmates often keep silent about sexual abuse due to fear of repercussions.
- Inability to Escape: Prisoners truly have nowhere to run or hide from abusive guards. This vulnerability increases the likelihood of sexual assaults.
- Fear that Nobody Would Believe/Shame: Victims of sexual assault often feel shame and fear that their stories will not be believed. They often keep silent, and the abuse continues.
- Threats to Take Away Essentials: Guards can threaten to withhold a prisoner's essentials in order to continue abusing them.
- Incentives: A guard may ply a sexual assault victim with gifts to keep them quiet and willing.
- Officers’ Control: The control officers wield over inmates fosters correctional officer and inmate relationships.
- Administrative System Errors: Lack of administrative penalties and punishment for officers makes it more likely for abuse to continue.
Many prison assault cases share at least one of these situations.
Sexual Assault in Prisons Statistics
Sexual violence in prisons doesn't only happen in movies. It's a serious occurrence that takes place far more often than many people believe. The data demonstrate that prison sexual assault occurs with frightening regularity.
- The number of incidents of sex with inmates reported by inmates nearly tripled from 2011 to 2015;
- For the period between 2012 and 2015, nearly 70,000 allegations were reported;
- Prison officials reported less than 9,000 incidents of sexual abuse in prisons across the country, yet self-reporting male prisoners indicate at least 180,000 of them had been abused;
- Women prisoners, who represent less than 10% of the prison population, make up over 30% of victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by correction staff;
- In private prisons, inmates are up to twice as likely to report being sexually abused by staff than by fellow inmates.
The numbers are bleak and paint a reality that many do not want to face. What is even more frightening is that the incidents of abuse are considered to be underreported.
This concept was one of the primary reasons that the Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA") was passed. This legislation recognizes that roughly 13% of inmates have been sexually assaulted, with many individuals facing exposure to repeated assaults.
Can Prisoners Give Informed Consent?
Consent is a powerful defense against a sexual abuse charge outside of correctional facilities. However, within the walls of correctional facilities, consent does not exist when speaking of sexual contact between prison guards and inmates.
Federal law and the laws of many states make it clear that under no circumstances can a prison guard and inmate relationship be consensual. One of the main reasons for this is the imbalance of power inherent in the prisoner-guard relationship.
Prison staff, including guards, administrators, and other workers, exercise near absolute power over prisoners throughout their entire stay at a facility. Because of this wide disparity in power, any sexual relationship that occurs between prison officers and inmates is automatically considered staff sexual abuse.
Hence, when male or female correctional officers having relationships with inmates are discovered, they can not avail themselves of the defense of consent, even if the relationship would have been perfectly fine outside of the walls of the prison system.
Whatever type of sexual relationship they have with a prisoner in corrections settings, it's automatically considered sexual misconduct, be it outright prison rape or sexual touching and flirting. And the corrections officers involved should be punished but never the sexual assault victims.
What Does Zero-Tolerance for Sexual Assault in Prison Mean?
The Prison Rape Elimination Act established national standards for behavior regarding sexual abuse in prisons.
It essentially defines what zero tolerance for sexual assault means in prison by mandating that all forms of sexual abuse, including any sexual act between a prison employee and an inmate, must be condemned, reported, made to cease, and punished.
Additionally, there is no room whatsoever for anything but swift legal action. Turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of prisoners, which is common in sexual assault situations, may also be punished severely, given the fact that prison employees have a duty to care for the inmates they monitor, be it in a state or federal prison, a county jail, or any other type of criminal detention center.
It is only by following a zero-tolerance policy that these atrocious, vile acts can be prevented. Even the slightest form of tolerance or wrist slapping will eventually lead to further assaults and a growing list of sexual assault victims.
What Are the Consequences of Sexual Assault in Prison?
Sexual assault by correctional officers never leads to anything but negative consequences for both inmates and guards. In fact, inappropriate relationships in correctional facilities can eventually lead to an unraveling of many important social threads that keep guards and prisoners breaking prison rules.
Correctional officers having relationships with inmates consequences may include:
- The creation of cliques and factions that may eventually lead to fighting.
- Creates a dangerous lack of professionalism in the workplace.
- The increased use of snitches, which breeds distrust.
- The increase in contraband in the hands of prisoners, provided by prison guards.
- Loss of prison staff who are then subjected to criminal justice penalties.
- Destruction of family relationships for both inmates and correctional employees.
- Distrust and hierarchies among inmates.
- An increase in the acceptance of inappropriate relationships with inmates.
In other words, an inappropriate sexual relationship between male or female corrections officers and inmates can significantly threaten the individuals on both sides of the bars as well as the entire correctional facility itself.
But even though inmates and guards might suffer, the guards involved in the sexual victimization are the ones to blame. They are charged with the custody and care of inmates who should never be punished for having a sexual relationship with prison administrators and guards.
Who Can Be Liable in Sexual Assault in Prison Cases?
In all cases of sexual assault in prisons, the victim of the assault is never to blame. But those who are to blame might include many different individuals in addition to the prison staff member who committed the assault, including:
- Other employees who knew or should have known of the mistreatment of prisoners.
- Prison supervisors and administrators who should always be aware of abuse.
- The correctional facility itself, be it a prison, jail, or detention center.
- The government agency responsible for administering the prison, jail, or detention center.
In other words, the buck does not simply stop with the officer who is guilty of perpetrating a sexual assault against an inmate.
Responsibility for the acts may be shared among many, and victims can hold many parties accountable and file a claim for sexual assault in prison for the injuries and losses they have suffered, especially when the assaults have been allowed to continue over some time.
Get Help with Your Sexual Assault in Prison Case Today
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault while in prison, the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm can help you fight to put an end to the assault and seek justice for yourself or your loved one. Information regarding these despicable acts may be available if the victim is still behind bars but only if a report was filed.
Although it is often perceived as safer to keep quiet in the face of sexual assault, remaining silent often exacerbates the situation.