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Study Eyes Sexual Violence in Prisons: Many Assaults Aren't Reported

August 3, 2005

A Justice Department study released July 31 concluded that last year 8,210 alleged acts of sexual violence were reported to officials in the nation's jails and prisons, which hold about 2.1 million inmates. Of those, officials substantiated 2,090 allegations. Justice Department officials acknowledged that probably many more sexual assaults took place.

The study looked at reports of assaults by male and female inmates and staff in prisons, local jails, and juvenile detention centers in order to analyze this long-misunderstood aspect of prison life.

"Administrative records cannot alone provide reliable estimates of sexual violence," wrote Allen Beck and Timothy Hughes, the Justice Department statisticians who wrote the report, which was mandated by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. "Due to fear of reprisal from the perpetrators, a code of silence among inmates, personal embarrassment, and lack of trust in staff, victims are often reluctant to report incidents to correctional authorities," the report said.

In Massachusetts, the study found, the 10,000 inmates in state prisons reported 12 cases of rape by other inmates, 23 sexual assaults by other inmates, and 28 acts of sexual misconduct by staff. Authorities substantiated two inmate rapes, seven inmate sexual assaults, and two acts of sexual misconduct by prison staff. The rest lacked sufficient evidence or were judged unfounded.

Beck said the Justice Department plans to give prisoners confidential questionnaires to get a clearer picture of the problem. A 2001 Human Rights Watch study, partly based on prisoner interviews, suggested rape and sexual violence are commonplace behind bars.

This year, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) cited an estimate that one in 10 prisoners are raped. He said such violence increases the likelihood of prisoners committing crimes again and transmitting STDs after they are released.

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Excerpted from:
Boston Globe
08.01.05; Michael Levenson

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