Bring #MeToo to Prison Rape Survivors: Include Incarcerated Survivors in the Conversation
By Julia Brady, PREA Coordinator/Analyst
While more people than ever are talking about sexual violence and sexual harassment, one group is still being left out of the conversation: incarcerated survivors. Prison rape has yet to have its “#MeToo” moment, but advocates around the State of Maryland can help change that.
Including conversations about incarcerated survivors in prevention efforts is necessary in order to raise up the voices and needs of those who often go unheard. An estimated 200,000 people are sexually abused behind bars every year. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4% of prison inmates and 3.2% of jail inmates report experiencing sexual victimization. By not addressing the issue of prison rape, a large population of survivors is left behind. Incarcerated survivors do not have a safe space to share their stories. Perpetrators, as well as the institutions in which they are victimized, are less likely to be held accountable. While not all organizations are directly impacted by sexual abuse behind bars, silence on this issue sends the message that sexual violence against inmates is okay. This is not true. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
Being able to recognize instances of rape culture that specifically affect survivors of sexual abuse behind bars is a great first step. Prison rape culture leads to the normalization of sexual violence against incarcerated individuals by sending the message that inmates “had it coming.” Victim blaming is rampant in detention. Victims of sexual violence in detention are seen as weak because they “failed” to defend themselves.[ii] This culture makes survivors less likely to report and/or seek support. Prison rape jokes, such as “don’t drop the soap,” are frequently seen in the media, even in children’s cartoons. In more overt instances of prison rape culture, the jokes become threats. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s comments during the trial of Larry Nassar were an example of how prison rape culture can permeate even a court of law. Lovisa Stannow, the Executive Director of Just Detention International, published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times in response to the Judge’s comments explaining why not even Larry Nassar deserves to be raped. In it she writes, “You cannot condemn rape in one breath and then endorse it in the next. To do so is to promote the idea that there are places in the world where sexual abuse is OK, even encouraged.”[iii]
Build off the theme from this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and continue to Embrace Your Voice by speaking up for survivors who are incarcerated. Calling out an offensive joke, headline or tweet about prison rape can have a profound impact on #MeToo conversations. Active bystanders called out the Kentucky State Police for posting a tweet on Super Bowl Sunday that made a joke about prison rape. Intervention not only led to an apology and the removal of the tweet, it also brought national attention to the issue of prison rape. While not every instance of bystander intervention will have such a far reaching effect, even changing one person’s attitude can make a difference. Including incarcerated survivors in awareness campaigns is another powerful action step. Examine where data on prison rape can be included, or consider adding topics about prison rape to discussions addressing how sexual assault impacts LGBTQ populations. Finally, look to see if your organization’s services and policies are inclusive to incarcerated survivors. If you are not part of an organization that can provide services to this population, compile a resource list of those who can so you are prepared to make a referral.
Having these discussions and engaging new voices will help bring #MeToo to prison rape survivors. Survivors will feel more supported and have better access to resources. Our society’s response to rape culture must include the voices of those who are behind bars if we truly wish to end sexual violence in all forms, against all people.
If you are interested in learning more about prison rape culture or the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), visit MCASA’s PREA page for more resources. If you are would like more information on providing services to incarcerated survivors, please call the MCASA office at 301-328-7023 or email [email protected]
Allen J. Beck et al, “Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12”, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2013.
[ii] Mark S. Fleisher, Jessie L. Krienert, “The Culture of Prison Sexual Violence,” U.S. Department of Justice, Document No. 216515. November 2006
[iii] Stannow, Lovisa. "No one deserves to be raped - not even Larry Nassar." Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2018. Accessed March 5, 2018. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-stannow-larry-nassar-prison-rape-20180128-story.html.