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Prison Rape
February 11, 2007 7:46 PM   Subscribe

Human Rights Watch indepth report on male rape in US prisons. "I've been sentenced for a D.U.I. offense. My 3rd one. When I first came to prison, I had no idea what to expect. Certainly none of this. I'm a tall white male, who unfortunately has a small amount of feminine characteristics. And very shy. These characteristics have got me raped so many times I have no more feelings physically. "
posted by petsounds (149 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
(via reddit )
posted by petsounds at 7:49 PM on February 11, 2007


Note to self: stay the hell out of prison.
posted by loquacious at 7:55 PM on February 11, 2007


What a nightmare.

What, er, comes to mind is fandango_matt's excellent post and thread, Who's Your Daddy? Protective Pairing for Punks: a primer on sexual relationships in prison.
posted by nickyskye at 7:59 PM on February 11, 2007


Note to self: stay the hell out of prison.

Yeah, I'd be lying if I didn't say that fear of being gang-raped by squad of Aryan Brotherhood hardcases isn't the main thing I'd fear about prison, and thus probably prevented me from doing a lot of stupid things.

But I agree that it's disgraceful that stuff like this is ignored and even tacitly approved of. However, taking measures to prevent it will probably result in more repressive locked-down condirions and more people staying in jail for longer sentences as well. Not saying this should stop any efforts, just making an observation.
posted by jonmc at 8:00 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wonder which is the more (ie)effective deterrent to crime; the threat of the death penalty, or the threat of years of institutionalized gang raping?
posted by davejay at 8:00 PM on February 11, 2007


(in)effective, even.
posted by davejay at 8:00 PM on February 11, 2007


thank you for posting this, it is an issue that needs to be made much more public in order for changes to be made in the system. prison rape is usually thrown around as a joke (ha ha dropped the soap ha ha), but when confronting the reality and scope of the problem I would hope that we can change that attitude and begin to take action against a system that permits such things.
posted by cubby at 8:01 PM on February 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


ditto cubby.
posted by serazin at 8:03 PM on February 11, 2007


Whenever I see/hear people make comments like "hope he gets his furrow plowed hur hur hur when he goes to the tchk thck slammer hur hur hur" I want to throw things, scream and grab them by the collar and shake them until I can't no more. However, I've learned the hard way that this is something that a lot of people    just    don't    seem    to    get.

Thanks for posting this. I doubt I'll manage to read the whole thing, but I'll try not to flinch away.
posted by Kattullus at 8:04 PM on February 11, 2007


also - why is it a given that going to prison = getting gang raped? Our response shouldn't be "I hope I don't go to prison and get raped" It should be more like "why the hell are they letting this happen in our prisons?" Laws that apply outside of prison should apply within them as well.
posted by cubby at 8:07 PM on February 11, 2007




Please, please, please don't let anyone here say anything even remotely like, "Well, they shouldn't have done the crime..."

Incarceration is the punishment; prison rape is a crime, not a deterrence policy.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:13 PM on February 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


also - why is it a given that going to prison = getting gang raped?

Well, just a theory, but you've got a place filled with men who, in many cases, haven't been with a woman in years and may have no hope of being with one ever again. And many of them have already demonstrated their willingness to defy laws and norms of ethical behavior by the crimes that put them tehre in the first place, so it's an unique set of circumstances. And I do realize that for this skinny whiteboy, I'd probably be a target as soon as I walked in, which is something that's motivated me to stay the hell out of prison.
posted by jonmc at 8:14 PM on February 11, 2007


Incarceration is the punishment; prison rape is a crime, not a deterrence policy.

I'm not saying it should be, but the fact is that it is.
posted by jonmc at 8:15 PM on February 11, 2007


Key words:.... tacitly approved of....

If prison is frightening, it's an extra deterrent. The fact that this is concsiously allowed to happen, and dare I say, outside the US as well is a crime commited by 'justice systems' around the world.

Also note the fact that:

Unfortunately the legal rules that the courts have developed relating to prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse create perverse incentives for authorities to ignore the problem. Under the "deliberate indifference" standard that is applicable to legal challenges to prison officials' failure to protect prisoners from inter-prisoner abuses such as rape, the prisoner must prove to the court that the defendants had actual knowledge of a substantial risk to him, and that they disregarded that risk. As the courts have emphasized, it is not enough for the prisoner to prove that "the risk was obvious and a reasonable prison official would have noticed it." Instead, if a prison official lacked knowledge of the risk--no matter how obvious it was to anyone else--he cannot be held liable. In other words, rather than trying to ascertain the true dimensions of the problem of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, prison officials have good reason to want to remain unaware of it.

--


No jail for me thanks.
posted by lalochezia at 8:17 PM on February 11, 2007


I've wondered for years and years why being sentenced to prison under current conditions doesn't constitute cruel and unusual punishment -- or rather, why such a case has never been presented to the Supreme Court. I'd love to hear an explanation from a legal sort (I know there must be a few on Metafilter).
posted by uosuaq at 8:17 PM on February 11, 2007


Most prisoners will eventually be released back into society, so if even from just a pragmatic standpoint you'd imagine people would be against prison rape. Even if, for whatever reason, a person could approve of criminals being raped, you'd think they would desperately not want people who'd spent years raping and engaged in the slave trade ever released back into society. That's not even to mention what a person can become after having every shred of dignity and sense of self respect stripped from him after being victimized in that way.

For a more fully developed explanation of how prison rape can contribute to violent crime in society I'd suggest Violence, by James Gilligan.
posted by Doug at 8:19 PM on February 11, 2007


According to the new BJS report, "Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004," 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses. Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners suggests that there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county and/or local jails for pot-related offenses.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:19 PM on February 11, 2007


I'm not sure anyone could make a credible argument that prison rape = good thing. That being said, I also don't see correcting this issue as a national priority anytime soon, which is why in 2050 we'll all look back on this thread and realize: shit, some things don't change.

The question I have is: How did prison rape become so "popular" in the first place? Is it the ever increasing sexualization we experience on the outside that leads criminals to commit sex crimes on each other? Are prison conditions deteriorating in such a way that this morbid activity is a sort of relief? Are conjugal visits simply not as popular anymore, since people don't really stick by each other the way they used to?

Sure, we should definitely try to curb the activity and denounce efforts that seek to make light of the activity, but shouldn't we also seek the root cause of this?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:19 PM on February 11, 2007


I've wondered for years and years why being sentenced to prison under current conditions doesn't constitute cruel and unusual punishment -- or rather, why such a case has never been presented to the Supreme Court.

Because the logical conclusion to that court case would be an awful lot of dangerous people being let out of prison.
posted by jonmc at 8:20 PM on February 11, 2007


shouldn't we also seek the root cause of this?

*cough*
posted by jonmc at 8:21 PM on February 11, 2007


Since the link in the old thread didn't work, you can find protective pairing for punks here, via wayback machine.
posted by Listener at 8:23 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anyone know if prisoners typically have the same attitude towards gay sex that the Romans had? That is, if you're a pitcher rather than a catcher, you're not gay.

Also, I plan to stay the fuck out of prison.
posted by aerotive at 8:24 PM on February 11, 2007


Is it the ever increasing sexualization we experience on the outside that leads criminals to commit sex crimes on each other?

Rape isn't about sex, remember? It's about power. Getting off on putting the other one down and controlling them. That's what really gets the typical criminal type (antisocial diagnosis) off, I imagine -- that's probably what it takes to get them off. They accept it's a violent world that they operate in, the rules they've been following from the start, and that form of sexual behaviour is just a subset of the general rule of violence.

And just because DUI is a crime, doesn't mean I'm saying everyone with a criminal charge/conviction is the antisocial criminal type.
posted by Listener at 8:26 PM on February 11, 2007


Please, please, please don't let anyone here say anything even remotely like, "Well, they shouldn't have done the crime..."

Ok, I won't. Let's just pretend that's what lots of people aren't thinking when they shrug this problem off.

I usually don't agree with the "MeFi echo-chamber" comments, but if you don't address the roots of public apathy, you're not going anywhere on this issue.
posted by dreamsign at 8:27 PM on February 11, 2007


No offense jon, but your explanation is completely baseless. It might make sense in an off-the-cuff, rapid-fire answer sort of way, but under any scientific scrutiny, it doesn't hold any water.

Now, if you're arguing that prison rape has always existed and only now it's coming to light, then I could see your perspective. But I'm not so sure that prison rape has always existed at the level it's at now.

And I hear you Listener. It's a valid point.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:28 PM on February 11, 2007


Yeah, I decided a long time ago after seeing what happened to my cousin that I'd kill myself before I would go to prison.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 8:28 PM on February 11, 2007


A prison sentence is the first step on what is often a path of darkness.

I work with the urban poor - I can't count the number of times I've heard, "Prison really fucked up my life," or "everything was alright, and then I went to prison," or "I'd probably still be married / see my kids / have my old job / be sober / be able to handle my shit etc. if I hadn't gone to prison."

Prison sucks. I don't have any serious alternatives to offer - but I think it's reasonable to assume that something is seriously flawed. How is it that we (the U.S.) possess one of the vilest prison systems on Earth but yet still suffer from over 14,000 gun deaths a year? Something doesn't add up.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:29 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


No offense jon, but your explanation is completely baseless. It might make sense in an off-the-cuff, rapid-fire answer sort of way, but under any scientific scrutiny, it doesn't hold any water.

Actually, the Protective Pairing For Punks article that was linked seems to be saying much the same thing:

The basic fact of the matter is that most males, when separated from females, and especially when they're young and full of sex hormones which make them horny all the time, can become sexually aroused at the thought of penetrating anyone, regardless of their real sex. The nerves which produce pleasure in the dick don't ask if it's a girl's mouth, a boy's mouth; an ass or a pussy.


I'd also stipulate that in some cases it's done to establish dominance by gang leaders as well especially in gang rape cases.



Now, if you're arguing that prison rape has always existed and only now it's coming to light, then I could see your perspective.


Pretty much all accounts of prisons I've read or heard have indicated that it's always existed.
posted by jonmc at 8:32 PM on February 11, 2007


Rape isn't about sex, remember? It's about power.

Help me out, here - I remember recently we talked about this very issue - I think it was about a year ago in a similar thread about prison rape.

And somebody made this point - the whole rape=power thing.

And then somebody else completely took them apart for it. Essentially, that this is a bullshit hypothesis and that prison rape is just as much about getting your rocks off as date rape and any other form of rape. Only, the person who deconstructed the rape=power dynamic was a scientist, I think. They made a really good argument. Does anybody remember this?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2007


for the record, I would like to postulate that rape is actually about sexual gratification more than it is about power. Though I am by no means a scientist nor do I have any cool websites or statistics to back up this hypothesis.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:36 PM on February 11, 2007


also - why is it a given that going to prison = getting gang raped?

posted by jonmc Well, just a theory, but you've got a place filled with men who, in many cases, haven't been with a woman in years and may have no hope of being with one ever again. And many of them have already demonstrated their willingness to defy laws and norms of ethical behavior by the crimes that put them tehre in the first place, so it's an unique set of circumstances.


Rape--particuarly prison rape--is not about sex; it's about power, control, and dominance. Those who rape have power, control, and dominance over their victims--and in the prison environment, the heirarchy of power is largely based on your ability to maintain power, control, and dominance over others.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:36 PM on February 11, 2007


Listener, Thanks for updating that link.
posted by nickyskye at 8:36 PM on February 11, 2007


*posted before preview*
posted by fandango_matt at 8:37 PM on February 11, 2007



Now, if you're arguing that prison rape has always existed and only now it's coming to light, then I could see your perspective. But I'm not so sure that prison rape has always existed at the level it's at now.


Prisons havent been around all that long. In their early stages, at least in America, prison life was much more highly structured. Prisoners were often not allowed to ever speak to other prisoners, and lived in what was, in effect, solitary confinement. Oddly, we stopped doing that, at least in part, because of humanitarian reasons. Very unhealthy psychologically. The alternative, as Jon did imply, is that by regulating the life of the prisoners less, we ended up with more crime within the prison.

As for a psychological cause of prison rape, I'd again point to the Gilligan book. He was a prison psychologist for many, many years. In essense, and this is really an oversimplification, his thesis is that some individuals, when shamed, or denied respect, react violently, seeking to regain the respect they feel they've been denied, and try to establish their dominance. It's not hard to imagine, should this be true, how a person like that would react to our prison system.
posted by Doug at 8:39 PM on February 11, 2007


I decided a long time ago after seeing what happened to my cousin that I'd kill myself before I would go to prison.

Years ago, the foreman on my construction job made a terrifying remark:
"Boys, if you ever think you're gonna get caught, and they're gonna send you to state prison, you make damn sure the feds want you more. Do anything; kill some federal employees, anything -- you do whatever you gotta do so you don't end up at Brushy Mountain."
posted by aramaic at 8:39 PM on February 11, 2007


In essense, and this is really an oversimplification, his thesis is that some individuals, when shamed, or denied respect, react violently, seeking to regain the respect they feel they've been denied, and try to establish their dominance. It's not hard to imagine, should this be true, how a person like that would react to our prison system.

I'd posit that that the ultimate answer is a combination of this and my initial suggestion. But IANAwhatever.
posted by jonmc at 8:42 PM on February 11, 2007


Wow. The letter excerpt in the preface is heartbreaking. Thanks for posting this.
posted by nelvana at 8:43 PM on February 11, 2007


If state institutions were condoning the rape of "at least 140,000" female inmates you can sure as hell bet there would be an outcry, and rightly so. The tacit acceptance of male prison rape is utterly shocking - whether it has gone on forever or not. It seems most likely the prison administration uses it as a means of social control - by allowing it, they reinforce a hierarchy, and establish a working relationship with the most aggressive and dominant men in the system.
posted by Rumple at 8:45 PM on February 11, 2007 [6 favorites]


Years ago, the foreman on my construction job made a terrifying remark:
"Boys, if you ever think you're gonna get caught, and they're gonna send you to state prison, you make damn sure the feds want you more. Do anything; kill some federal employees, anything -- you do whatever you gotta do so you don't end up at Brushy Mountain."


Interesting. From what I know (from people who have worked in both) it's the same in Canada. The dollars, programs, and supervision all goes to the fed prisons. The provincial institutions you want to stay far away from.
posted by dreamsign at 8:57 PM on February 11, 2007


Do something about prison rape? But what would American late night comics do without prison rape jokes?
posted by washburn at 8:58 PM on February 11, 2007


So is the old-style solitary confinement worse than the modern regime of tacitly condoning prison rape? The former is probably pretty bad, but it's equal, at least.
posted by furiousthought at 8:59 PM on February 11, 2007


So is the old-style solitary confinement worse than the modern regime of tacitly condoning prison rape? The former is probably pretty bad, but it's equal, at least.

.. because those are the only two options.
posted by Rumple at 9:02 PM on February 11, 2007


If state institutions were condoning the rape of "at least 140,000" female inmates

There are fewer female inmates, but I'm sure they "rape" each other as well. They don't use a penis, but it's still extreme sexual assault with penetration and forced participation.

The point is, as the previous thread alluded to several times, at some point we outside prison stop thinking of those people as humans. I can understand how it happens and I wonder what the judges really think -- or feel -- when they are bringing down their dangerous offender decisions (here in Canada) on repeat-offending violent psychopaths, sexual sadists, garden variety murders and so on, in their calmly-voiced precise statements about risk assessment, rehabilitation failures and the protection of the public. I can understand why we don't care what happens to those people in prison -- it's because of what they've done to us. Would I mind seeing Stalin drawn and quartered were he still alive? Nah. Not after I casually passed by the Katyn Memorial earlier this year and spent some time thinking about it. These guys are not as impressively bad, but they are the same ilk. Not justifying it, but I'm surprised anyone thinks it would ever change.
posted by Listener at 9:02 PM on February 11, 2007


Considering theres a national peanut butter day, why cant we have a national prison sexual abuse day. One day out of the year where people take to the streets to protest. The media can get quotes from people fresh out of prison. Eventually this will trickle down to the joe sixpack and then the politicians will have to do something.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


Listener, whatever does this have to do with dangerous offender designations? Whether a sentence is 'indeterminate' or not is not likely a good indicator of victimization by prison rape. In the States, I think there's a fair bit of awareness that the "war on drugs" has thrown many, let's say "morally challenged but not wholly evil" young men into a system that will chew them up and spit them out (and maybe people are mostly worried about that second part). But people go to jail for light charges in Canada, too, and I can't imagine why they would be less of a target, especially if the provincial/fed distinction means that any crime getting you two years less a day is punishment befitting a "violent psychopath, sexual sadist" or "garden variety murderer".

I get the lack-of-sympathy argument; I was making it earlier. But how this relates to mass-murderers, et al... are you saying that's how most people "on the outside" think of prisoners as a whole?

What disturbs me is that people who want to treat rights as privileges use the "mass murderer" angle as some kind of "gotcha". Like, "You say that petty thief shouldn't be raped in prison, ok; but are you saying that some violent psychopath shouldn't either? Aha! You're anti-justice!" (just a general comment; not directed at you, Listener)
posted by dreamsign at 9:26 PM on February 11, 2007


Prison rape does seem to have national characteristics. It is not common in prisons in my country, for example, to the extent that accusations are national news. There is a cultural dimension that needs investigation here too.

It does seem pretty clear that as with drugs and with inter-prisoner violence there are incentives for prison officers to turn a blind eye in order to make their jobs easier. Turning this around would require herculean efforts to retrain or replace prison staff, never mind anything else.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:27 PM on February 11, 2007


[T]he Internal Affairs investigator brought both the victim and the perpetrator into a room together and asked them what had happened. Although M.R. was terrified to speak of the incident in front of the other inmate, he told his story, while the perpetrator claimed the sex was consensual. After both of them had spoken, the investigator told them that "lovers' quarrels" were not of interest to Internal Affairs...
posted by agentofselection at 9:30 PM on February 11, 2007


The idea that knowing that prisons are insane torture chambers can or does serve as a deterrent ("no prison for me, thanks") is pretty ludicrous when you think about it. Does anyone over the age of 15 in this country *not* know this is the case? Certainly not. But here we are with overfull prisons across the nation, each one its own hell.

The fact is, if you are of a certain age, and race, and socio-economic class, you're going to go to prison, and you're going to get sexually, physically, and psychically abused. And if you're not, you won't.

And if the U.S. wanted it any other way, it *would* be another way. if we wanted to prevent crime, we'd prevent it, rather than what we do now, which is to positively encourage crime by fostering class-based resentment, injustice, and inequality.

Face it, we as a society just like punishing the shit out of people.
posted by facetious at 9:39 PM on February 11, 2007


Second the recommendation of the James Gilligan book.
posted by alms at 9:42 PM on February 11, 2007


Man, I just read that SPR stuff. Damn that's some adaptablity.
posted by lalochezia at 9:50 PM on February 11, 2007


The fact is, if you are of a certain age, and race, and socio-economic class, you're going to go to prison

EXT -- EXERCISE YARD -- DAY (1947) 36

Exercise period. Red plays catch with Heywood and Jigger, lazily tossing a baseball around. Red notices Andy off to the side. Nods hello. Andy takes this as a cue to amble over. Heywood and Jigger pause, watching.

ANDY
(offers his hand)
Hello. I'm Andy Dufresne.

Red glances at the hand, ignores it. The game continues.

RED
The wife-killin' banker.

ANDY
How do you know that?

RED
I keep my ear to the ground. Why'd you do it?

ANDY
I didn't, since you ask.

RED
Hell, you'll fit right in, then.
(off Andy's look)
Everyone's innocent in here, don't you know that? Heywood! What are you in for, boy?

HEYWOOD
Didn't do it! Lawyer fucked me!
posted by frogan at 9:51 PM on February 11, 2007


Maybe if we asked for more out of prison guards than a GED and a taste for dehumanizing the powerless we could put a stop to it. But when working at Arby's is a smarter choice, career-wise, than becoming a "correctional officer," I fail to see how anything will ever change.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:53 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Prison rape has led to at least one murder in the outside world.
Some who suffer through brutal rapes become predators themselves, both in prison and after their release, subjecting other innocent victims to the same degradation that they experienced. Or they vent their rage in other acts of violence, often racially motivated. One example is the tragic story of James Byrd, the black man who was picked up by three white supremacists, beaten, chained to the back of their pickup truck and dragged for three miles to his death. One of his assailants was John William King, a burglar who had recently been released after serving a three-year sentence in one of Texas’ toughest prisons.

When King arrived at the prison, a group of white supremacists reportedly conspired with the guards to place King in the "black" section of the prison. At just 140 pounds, King was unable to defend himself against a group of black prisoners who repeatedly gang-raped him. This was exactly what the white power gang wanted. Filled with hatred, King was easily recruited into their group for protection. Over the remainder of his sentence, they filled King’s head full of hatred for blacks. When he was released, John King unleashed that pent-up hatred on James Byrd. The gang-rapes he endured in prison are no excuse for his murder of James Byrd, but they certainly help us understand what could lead him to hate so much.

posted by jason's_planet at 9:55 PM on February 11, 2007


I've wondered for years and years why being sentenced to prison under current conditions doesn't constitute cruel and unusual punishment -- or rather, why such a case has never been presented to the Supreme Court.

Has to be both cruel and unusual. While it's cruel, it's not unusual.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:01 PM on February 11, 2007


stephen donaldson, the former head of spr.org was once known in the new york punk scene as "donny the punk". his own testimonial (pdf. file) is quit terrifying to read. i actually knew donny when he was the head of the alternative press and radio council back in the mid-80's. sadly, he passed away of HIV in the 90's.
posted by cazoo at 10:02 PM on February 11, 2007


Folks, does anyone know the comment or thread that Baby_Balrog was talking about?
posted by redteam at 10:11 PM on February 11, 2007


I knew a guy who killed himself rather than go to prison a few years back, largely for this reason.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:22 PM on February 11, 2007


To place the blame on COs is to seriously misread the situation. If the prison administration and state officials have no interest in prosecuting sex offences committed within prison, what is a CO supposed to do? And as for the lack of education necessary to work as a CO, take a look at the Stanford Prison Experiment and see how the best and brightest fare in a similar situation.

Folks, does anyone know the comment or thread that Baby_Balrog was talking about?

I haven't really looked, but I can't imagine that post he's talking about is as conclusive as he makes it seem. I mean, sexual gratification obvious plays a component in most rape. These men aren't choosing to dominate other prisoners by forcing them to play tic tac toe. Ultimately, though, the majority of the literature is against the scientist that Baby Balrog is referring to. Rape can't simply be explained by desire for sexual gratification.
posted by Doug at 10:23 PM on February 11, 2007


Y'know all I can really think is - 'gee, why doesn't he just kill them?' (I'd become the prince of darkness in jail) And it occurs to me that - given any human can murder another; strength, speed, skill are all secondary to skill, planning and time, and in the joint all you have is time so lack of skill isn't even a factor with enough planning - people like this aren't killing the people who rape them because they're not killers.
That nuance there is, that the people who are the most dangerous are the ones doing all the raping. So there really isn't that "punishment" or "he has it coming" angle per se. Because the ones getting raped aren't the really vicious bastards.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:31 PM on February 11, 2007


Obviously, the situation in the prisons here is deplorable and unforgivable in so many ways. Prison rape is one of the more extreme symptoms of its ugliness, in addition to acute gang- and race-based violence, psychological trauma and so forth. Taxpayers are essentially underwriting the dehumanization and degradation of their fellow citizens and ensuring that many will become recidivists. It would be interesting to see whether prisons in the UK, Canada, Japan and other first world countries exhibit similar problems. The HRW study said that white men are the most vulnerable and that latinos and blacks feel that they only get to 'turn out' members of their own race. Anyone know what the experience of asians or middle easterners is?
posted by Azaadistani at 10:31 PM on February 11, 2007


"Rape is about power and not sex" is a vapid, reductionist cliche of a truism, framing the issue falsely in either / or terms.

Do the same people claim that BDSM is "about power and not sex"?
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:34 PM on February 11, 2007


I was a CO for two years over 15 years ago at a max sec remand centre. Back then we (the uniforms) took a very dim view indeed of any inmate violence, including prisoner rape.

While I was still there a rape did take place, and the victim was so badly beaten he ended up in critical care and eventually died of his injuries. The officer who was responsible for that living unit was in serious hot water and there was a pretty major inquiry. I think in the end the culprits ended up being charged and were found guilty, and IIRC the officer involved faced some kind of DA, but I don't know what exactly.

The whole thing was a bullshit situation too. Canada Immigration didn't have any room in their own cells for the guy so he shipped him to us. A 110-lb, mild mannered Ethiopian guy. He was beaten, raped and DIED on an immigration hold. To this day I can see the faces of the federal Immigration officers dropping this guy off and I can feel the bile surging in my throat.

The incidence of rapes in Provincial Correctional Centres in B.C. was, AFAIK, relatively low. That was back then, in Canada, in a provincial lockup, and a remand centre at that, so I dunno if my anecdotal experience is par for the course.
posted by illiad at 10:39 PM on February 11, 2007


Well, Uburoivas, the BDSM people I've talked to tell me it's generally more about power than sex. Sorry I stated the other thing black and white. Rewrite: Rape is often more about power than just sex, especially when perpetrated by antisocial criminal types in the context stavros was referring to, which was what I was referring to. If you see any more apparently reductionist statements by me, give me the benefit of the doubt, please.
posted by Listener at 10:48 PM on February 11, 2007


posted by UbuRoivas Do the same people claim that BDSM is "about power and not sex"?

1. BDSM and rape are two different activities.
2. BDSM involves two or more consenting participants.
3. Rape involves a non-consenting participant.

The More You Know!
posted by fandango_matt at 11:14 PM on February 11, 2007


To place the blame on COs is to seriously misread the situation.

For sure. But a policy introduced from the top will fail without their co-operation.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:38 PM on February 11, 2007


AIDS is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst US prison inmates - largely as a result of prison rape by infected rapists who don't use condoms - and the physical injuries caused during rape, such as the anal tearing greatly increase the risk of transmission.

Go to prison for a year for a relatively minor drugs or driving offence, and get a death sentence? Jesus.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:44 PM on February 11, 2007


oh, and I know AIDS is not an automatic death sentence these days; but how many prisoners do you think are getting effective treatment, for AIDS deaths to be number 2?
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:46 PM on February 11, 2007


As much as the ass-tearing aspect horrifies me, it's really the AIDS/death-sentence part that makes me most mad. There's so much I don't understand about prison, though. I figure I'm like most people: if someone does something bad to me, I'm going to try and find a way to get back at them. Someone rapes me? They're losing a quart of blood. Someone gives me AIDS? They're gonna die.

I really don't intend to give off some internet tough-guy attitude here, but I know myself, and I know I can't be very different from most people in this regard. So why aren't there more incidents of rapists getting murdered? Is it because they're usually part of a gang, and killing a gang member means you've got his whole posse to deal with?

Also, I don't understand why more of these vulnerable inmates aren't opting for solitary confinement. Yes, solitary is psychologically very hard, but I'd rather face four walls 23 hours a day and know I'm not going to get raped than, well, than the alternative.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:03 AM on February 12, 2007


We feel such disgust towards rapists that we don't want to believe that their motives and feelings of reward are anything like ours. We try to separate our desire for sexual gratification from the rapists' desires by claiming that rape is just a domination exercise. This ignores the fact that (barring mechanically or electrically induced sex) a man must be at least somewhat aroused in order to ejaculate.

Well, Uburoivas, the BDSM people I've talked to tell me it's generally more about power than sex. Sorry I stated the other thing black and white. Rewrite: Rape is often more about power than just sex, especially when perpetrated by antisocial criminal types in the context stavros was referring to, which was what I was referring to. If you see any more apparently reductionist statements by me, give me the benefit of the doubt, please.

It would be difficult to determine whether the domination is a way of making the sex more interesting or if sex is a way to make the domination more interesting. In any case, the similarity between rape, consensual BDSM, and consensual vanilla sex makes a lot of people uncomfortable
posted by Human Flesh at 12:04 AM on February 12, 2007


So why aren't there more incidents of rapists getting murdered? Is it because they're usually part of a gang, and killing a gang member means you've got his whole posse to deal with?

From what I could figure out, it has a lot to do with psychological pressure. Prison is a scary scary place, and most of us aren't prepared to handle the realities behind the steel doors. If you've been made someone's kid, by that time you're likely to have been so badly beaten you're terrified beyond description, and you spend your waking hours trying not to be noticed.

IANAPsychologist, so I can't get into the theories behind it, but from first-hand observation I'd say that the vast majority of us aren't as likely to be as courageous as we'd like to be in a prison situation.
posted by illiad at 12:39 AM on February 12, 2007


Civil_Disobedient: I think there are a few reasons. First, as stated above, I think the victims are victims specifically because they aren't the most bloodthirsty guys on the block.

I think it's also true that the rapists are usually part of organized crime groups, and the victims are not. Killing someone in a gang when you're not is a really easy way to get yourself violently killed. And beyond that, many of these guys are gang-raped. How many people are you going to kill?

And finally, what might be the most important aspect of all this, is that if you're a victim of prison rape, the last place in the world you want to be is in prison. Killing someone, or even trying to get yourself placed in solitary, will only lengthen your stay. Most of these victimes aren't lifers, and I'm sure they don't want to become one.
posted by Doug at 1:23 AM on February 12, 2007


Governments should admit that, because prison rape happens so often and they aren't doing much to stop it, rape, like living in a cell or eating prison food, is part of your sentence. "You are sentenced to ten years of living with many dangerous people, during which time we expect you to be beaten and raped a number of times with no recourse to justice."

If solitary confinement meant a cell big enough to lie down in and do some stretching exercises, a toilet I didn't have to share, decent lighting, access to books (even just one or two now and then -- I could memorize them) or at least pen and paper, and steel walls between me and other prisoners, I'd gladly take it. Rape or no rape, the real punishment of imprisonment is not the confinement itself but being confined with so many horrible people.
posted by pracowity at 1:41 AM on February 12, 2007


So, let me get this straight. If I break a law, and face going to prison, the odds are that I'm going to be raped and possibly die of AIDS.

Clearly we can see that criminals are not responding rationally to the threat of incarceration. The claim has always been, that harsher punishments deter crime. At this point any punishment you get is equivalent to the death penalty, or at least a death penalty lottery. So given the above, it seems obvious to me, that the only rational response to this possibility is to do everything up to and including killing someone to escape it.

Just something for you and the cop to consider the next time you're pulled over for a traffic stop.
posted by mock at 2:09 AM on February 12, 2007


I think the one sure way to address prison violence would be to mix the white collar criminals (you know, the Lays and Skillings) with the general population. As in most aspects of life, money talks.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:53 AM on February 12, 2007


Rape isn't about sex, remember? It's about power.

No, it's actually about sex.

Steven Pinker, in The Blank Slate, went off on this, and it's one of the most poignant, angry, fascinating things I've ever read. Basically, castration as a cure for recividism among rapists -- even when the prisoner requests it -- has been fought quite successfully with the argument that "rape isn't about sex, it's about power".

The problem is, there's not even the slightest shred of evidence to justify this. The actual data shows castrated offenders are something like 2% as likely to repeat offend as non-castrated.

This means ignorance of the facts, causes a 50x likelyhood of women getting raped. Such is the ethical stain upon those who make the claim that rape has nothing to do with sex.

That's Pinker's argument, and I have to say, it's damn compelling.
posted by effugas at 3:30 AM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Except of course, if you're opposed to the death penalty for the usual reasons of the falibility of the courts , you should probably be opposed to castrating people for much the same reasons.

Plus there's the additional argument, that if rapists know they're going to get castrated if caught, they have a fair bit of incentive to commit murder to avoid it.
posted by mock at 3:50 AM on February 12, 2007


In what way does the institutional prison system in the United States of America not constitute a crime against humanity? Seriously, according to this definition, imprisonment and its fully known consequences constitutes "a serious attack on human dignity or a grave humiliation or degradation of one or more human beings" that are "tolerated or condoned by a government." This is, in fact, "part of a widespread or systematic practice." Especially considering that incarceration is normal for African American males, I would say that the perpetuation of the prison system in this country is itself a crime.
posted by graymouser at 3:54 AM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Graymouser. Just a question; aren't most people in prison because of their own attack on others human dignity. I am not condoning the idea one crime deserves another, but does the whole thing some how find some kind of social equilibrium? Perhaps what goes around comes back around but not always on a one to one basis. I think the Stanford study pointed out our capacity or even willful embrace of barbaric behavior given the opportunity.
posted by MapGuy at 4:54 AM on February 12, 2007


mock: Except of course, if you're opposed to the death penalty for the usual reasons of the falibility of the courts , you should probably be opposed to castrating people for much the same reasons.

We're talking about chemical castration here, which I'm under the impression is not permanent.
posted by spaltavian at 4:55 AM on February 12, 2007


Rape isn't about sex, remember? It's about power.

No, it's actually about sex.


Sorry to be so dismissive about such a classic big debate but I think this becomes a stupid argument if framed it in such simplistic, extreme either/or terms. I don't see what's so hard in acknowledging it's about both sex and power (and I know this is has been said before so I'm not discovering something new and amazing here. I don't have links or quotes though).

It's so obvious. It's forcing people to have sex with you against their will. In that sense it is more about power than sex alone, but doesn't mean you don't get off on it, so it's still very much about sex too, only a fucked up way to get sex.

After all there's always games of 'power' and control even in healthy normal sexual relationships, only it's a give and take for mutual fun, you get off on your partner's pleasure as well as yours, and even if it gets to kinky levels of bondage and all that, it's still healthy and normal insofar as the mutual and consensual part makes all the difference. It's not what you do, it's what you agree to.

In a prison environment where rape happens frequently it's bound to be both the fact it's an all male environment (it would be naive to deny that), and the fact that violence and contempt breeds more of the same. If these men are treated like subhumans by the people who have power over them, they'll be more encouraged to do the same to others, to seek to exert their own fucked up power on others, to prove they're 'men' in a screwed up way of being men. Not saying prison alone would turn anyone into a rapist from scratch, but in conditions of abuse it's easier for someone who's already so inclined to become an abuser himself.

There has to be something at cultural level too to make this happen. The disregard for human rights that leads to the death penalty and Guantanamo, it starts at a much smaller scale.
posted by pleeker at 4:58 AM on February 12, 2007


Hey, a chance to self-link!
Never Get Sent to Prison

Never get sent to prison
I'm telling you as a friend
Cause if you get sent to prison
You'll end up as someone's girlfriend

For a guy, yer kinda purty
So I'm telling you as a friend
If you get sent to prison
It could only come to a bad end

<sobriquet> I wanted to be more explicit
<DarkSmile> It will be, in the last verse
<sobriquet> ahh buliding up
Prison is very boring
But you'll find the time will pass
You'll be praying for it, sure 'nuff
When Bubba's up your ass

OH!

Never get sent to prison
I'm telling you as a friend
Cause if you get sent to prison
You'll end up as Bubba's girlfriend

(This is where it gets raunchy folks. Don't read it if you don't mean it.)

Never get sent to prison,
This you must comprehend
Lest you come to an understanding
When Bubba comes in your rear-end

OH!

Never get sent to prison
I'm telling you as a friend
Cause if you get sent to prison
You'll end up as Bubba's girlfriend

FINALE: You'll end up as Bubba's girlfriend
*musical flourish*
I know it falls under the category of cruel and unusual, but I can't think of a punishment that's too severe for driving drunk. Problem is, a lot of times prison leaves a person unable to return to society 'rehabilitated' (as they're supposed to) and all that rapin' doesn't help. Still, goddamn drunken drivers.
posted by Eideteker at 5:04 AM on February 12, 2007


hey, gm, good arguments.

effugas, I can only take your and Pinker's arguments as they appear, here goes...

The perspectives that it's about power are efforts to take it out of the corporeal and into the psyche. I think that's valid and gives broader insight into the crime. Of course you can limit it and say it's sex and cut off a guy's balls and cock, that would pretty much prevent any aggression forever. But it's barbaric. There are female rapists and molesters (rare, by comparison), but would you support clitorectomies and ovarectomies?

Power is an idea, like energy. Sex is an act. If you don't like murders, you can remove every gun, it helps prevent the act. But admitting it's also about power gets to the genesis of the whole thing, a good place to start.

Plenty of white rascists managed to reform themselves with this understanding, I think it's too early to sell out the sex crimes reform effort yet...
posted by toma at 5:09 AM on February 12, 2007


aren't most people in prison because of their own attack on others human dignity. I am not condoning the idea one crime deserves another, but does the whole thing some how find some kind of social equilibrium?

See, that's what I mean for disregard for human rights. Some people seem to think they don't apply to criminals, when that's where they most need to be applied. If we all respect each other human rights as long as we're all nice to each other, that's easy. That's not human rights, that's politeness.

Even the worst criminals deserve a proper humane treatment, because if you start making exceptions for human rights based on how much the person 'deserves' them by virtue of their actions, that's not human rights anymore, that's the old paleochristian concept of punishment. Human rights don't need to be deserved, they're yours by virtue of being human, no matter what you do. Prison is supposed to be about depriving criminals of their freedom, not of their dignity as humans.

I think there's a confusion between dignity and respect here. Someone who's seriously harmed another human being doesn't deserve our respect, but if we take away their basic human rights we're diminishing their importance for all of us, and making it easier for the smaller scale offenders to be subjected to abusive treatment in prisons, and then it all goes downhill from there.

Human rights are not a la carte, you can't pick and choose which ones to apply and to whom. Not because of some wishy washy let's all love each other feeling, it's because otherwise you're undermining some very basic foundations of a modern legal system that took centuries to develop, for a reason.
posted by pleeker at 5:11 AM on February 12, 2007 [6 favorites]


Actually, anti-death penalty advocates bother me in their apparently strident support for the prison system. Yes, killing is wrong. So is putting someone in a cage, or taking all their money. These are things we do as punishment, though. Yes, courts get things wrong. But the life-long ostricization that we deploy against ex-cons begs the question of whether we've achieved our goal of correcting for that error.

Yes, death is a horrible punishment. But we're sending pot smokers to get anally raped. At least death only comes to those who committed a truly heinous crime. An anti-death penalty advocate who is equally horrified by the nature of the prison system has my respect; otherwise I think their delusions about prison create more harm than they're willing to admit.

Delusions are harmful. If you want to argue that castration is a dangerous route that leads to government taking an active role in the state of our bodies, that's one thing. But to argue that castration can't work, because it's about power and not sex -- well, this is just not what the data says.

Fifty times more likely to reoffend. Think about that. Fifty.

Ignoring sexuality as a driver of rape creates rape victims. I believe that is wrong.
posted by effugas at 5:15 AM on February 12, 2007


The criminals I've known were either the most mentally ill or the most hair-triggered pre-programmed victims I'd seen. Either way, a liberal dose of preventative human rights concerns would have helped.
posted by toma at 5:15 AM on February 12, 2007


effugas, I made the argument, I'll do it again. It's barbarism. And saying it's successful is weak. If you kill every criminal, no matter the offense, you will drastically lower the crime rate. I don't really have to beat this hopefully dead horse, do I?
posted by toma at 5:20 AM on February 12, 2007


But effugas, castration has been shown to reduce the rate of all violent crime. Does that mean that murder is actually not about money/jealousy/rage/whatever and actually "about" sex? To say that there is a biological basis for certain violent behavior is not nearly the same thing as saying "rape is all about sex." As said a lot in this thread, it's a whole lot more complicated than that.

There's a reason some people rape, while others do not, and I don't think the answer is just that rapists are hornier.
posted by Doug at 5:20 AM on February 12, 2007


I tried the same argument with guns/dicks...
posted by toma at 5:23 AM on February 12, 2007


toma--

No.

Power is not sex. Sex is not power. These are different things, different concepts, and frankly, different parts of our brain. The entire concept of a social heirarchy exists in a far different world than reproduction and the desire for sexual stimulation. Literally, we're talking about different, even distant structures in the brain, that evolved at wildly different times and serve very different purposes.

Sex is, of course, not about cock and balls. There is some deeply powerful neural interference going on pushing for it. But we are indeed made of meat, and hormones regulate that neural interference. Other things can and do counterregulate -- say, ethical constructs, or fear of punishment. Neither work too well in a prison environment, for fairly obvious reasons. There are any number of methods available for a prison to counterregulate, but all of the effective ones have a shared awareness:

The enemy is libido. Not the pecking order, not some abstract "genesis of the problem". Horny guys. No girls. Power is relevant to the degree to which it always is -- it determines the allocation of finite resources. So it's not a totally irrelevant factor. But it's way more of a secondary thing.

The reason I get annoyed, is because an effective treatment for recividism has been blocked, against the prisoner's own wishes in one case, because of a philosophy. I'd never actually seen a philosophy so clearly lead to direct harm. But this rape=power myth has.
posted by effugas at 5:34 AM on February 12, 2007


...I don't think the answer is just that murderers are gunnier...
posted by toma at 5:34 AM on February 12, 2007


....simul-post....am reading...
posted by toma at 5:38 AM on February 12, 2007


It's not uncommon for a man who has had sex with another man to say, "I was drunk. I didn't know what I was doing." (Women often say, "I was experimenting.") Some of the prison "rapes" probably were consensual or semi-consensual sex . Distribution of condoms in prisons would make sex safer.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:50 AM on February 12, 2007


toma--

I'm totally OK with the argument that castration is barbarous. That's way, way better than "it can't work, because rape isn't about the sex, it's about the power". There are very good reasons to be worried about a government that demands the right to regulate your hormones. So I don't mind that argument at all.

Doug--

I suspect it's a matter of:

Testosterone -> Horniness
Testosterone -> Aggressiveness

Horniness is the motive. Aggressiveness is the opportunity. Castration reduces Testosterone, stripping both. That doesn't make murder about sex; the horniness wasn't the motive in this case, something else was. But rape's fundamental motive really is, in almost all cases, unmet sexual need.

I'm not advocating any particular solution. Castration, conjugal visits, tighter supervision, draconian punishment for rape, whatever. I hesitate to say this, lest I be quoted out of context, but if every prisoner had his own personal call girl, prison rape would plummet. It wouldn't go to zero. It'd still be a form of hazing, of humiliation, of introduction to the power structure. To that extent, sure, there is certainly a power element to rape. But what needs to be realized is that the argument really is that rape has nothing to do with the sex, that it's all about the power -- and that, in most cases, is ridiculous, and belief in this has itself caused rape.
posted by effugas at 5:55 AM on February 12, 2007


As a matter of proof, there are lots of social heirarchies, even social conflicts, that involve deep power structures interacting. Most of those interactions are resolved in an anal-sex free way. Something is making prisons different. Guess what.
posted by effugas at 5:58 AM on February 12, 2007


Uh huh... and I suppose some women were "asking for it" too

BULLSHIT

If someone says they were raped, I'm kinda inclined to believe them. While I grant you, there might be some few individuals who go around making up crazy wild accusations - most people, would never admit to being raped unless it actually happened.

That goes double for convicts. It's like sticking a sign on your back saying "victim"

Also, what kind of savages are you people that you don't distribute condoms in prisons?
posted by mock at 6:01 AM on February 12, 2007


Glad you all took the time, why I like the blue.

The entire concept of a social heirarchy exists in a far different world than reproduction and the desire for sexual stimulation.

That statement seems to point at broad societal or cultural theaters being the arenas of power. I'm talking about personal power.

Rape is a product of not how a person sees themselves as a sexual entity, but a power entity. Otherwise, porn stars would be the hopeless sexual predators of our time. The sexual criminals of our time are megalomaniacs. Sex is nothing more than the tool to assert their personal existence.

It'd still be a form of hazing, of humiliation, of introduction to the power structure... Bingo.
posted by toma at 6:03 AM on February 12, 2007


effugas, on the other hand, there are plenty of prison systems world-wide, and even in America, such as the Federal Prison system, that do not do anything to meet the sexual needs of prisoners, and yet have dramatically lower rates of sexual assault. So how, then, are we causing rape by not addressing sexual need, or the sexual origin of rape?

Castration might be a solution. Call girls another. There are, however, other ways of addressing this problem, and they probably aren't as extreme as drugging our entire prison population, or providing prisoners with prostitutes.

But what needs to be realized is that the argument really is that rape has nothing to do with the sex, that it's all about the power


This really seems like a straw man argument. I don't really know if anyone thinks that rape has nothing to do with sex. Chemical castration has not been largely abandoned because people feel that rape is only about power. There are many other reasons against the use of chemical castration.
posted by Doug at 6:09 AM on February 12, 2007


Prison rape can't be looked at as simply a number of instances of rape. That is simply unhelpful. The issue is not that there are rapists in prison, it is that there is a complete and utter breakdown of human rights in the prison, in many cases administered by the prisoners themselves, that is tacitly condoned by the criminal justice system.

At least an element of the problem is that, in terms of crime, prisons are viewed as the solution. The "solutions" given to address criminality during the last 25 years have been universally to throw more and more human material at the prison system, from the "war on drugs" to "three strikes" rules. We have filled prisons beyond capacity while failing to address even the most basic prisoner rights issues, leading to a prison culture that is increasingly barbaric. In essence, all the "law and order" bullshit since the Reagan era has created a vicious cycle that has made prisons institutionalized torture chambers that, in turn, create more hardened career criminals.

I don't think you can address prison rape in isolation, because I don't believe it exists in isolation. It's a wretched, disgusting, criminal symptom of a badly broken system, and one that is poised to continue getting worse as more "tough on crime" laws send more people into its prisons.
posted by graymouser at 6:18 AM on February 12, 2007


Why not appeal to the religious right on this. I'd assume they do not want homosexual sex going on in a government institution. With the right PR campaign it seems as if you could get them incensed about this 'government sacntioned' sin. Perhaps then, with both the left and the right calling for change, the issue would be seriously dealt with.
posted by batou_ at 6:21 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


toma--

That statement seems to point at broad societal or cultural theaters being the arenas of power. I'm talking about personal power.

No, I'm saying you've got higher brain functions that show you how to make friends and influence people, and deep lizard brain stuff that says "have sex". You might use those higher brain functions to figure out how to *satisfy* the lizard brain -- after all, that's why you have the higher brain functions in the first place, since it's also satisfying needs like "find food" and "get warm". But it's the core needs that are driving the behavior.

There are plenty of realms more cutthroat than even prison environments. Corporate America and International Politics comes to mind. These things are full of hazing, humiliation, and introduction to the power structure. But again, anal violation is just not usually part of the game.

It's only in prisons that "legitimate" outlets for sexuality are so rare. Arguably, prisons are the only places that even extremely powerful men still can't attract a female.

Thought experiments: Provide call girls, but very little food to the prisoners. Now the precious lizard brain commodity is food, and food is used to drive the power structure. Provide call girls, but provide very little heat to the prisoners. Now the precious lizard brain commodity is heat, and everything is about who you're huddling with. Provide heat and food, but no girls.

What do you get?

Rape is a product of not how a person sees themselves as a sexual entity, but a power entity. Otherwise, porn stars would be the hopeless sexual predators of our time.

Yes, because when I think "sexually deprived individuals", I think porn stars. I don't think there is a less similar subgroup of society relative to prisoners.

The sexual criminals of our time are megalomaniacs. Sex is nothing more than the tool to assert their personal existence.

Look, there are two kinds of (male) rapists "on the outside":

1) Guys that can get laid as much as they want, but get off on taking it
2) Guys that can't get laid, and *need* to take it

The sexual criminals of our time, in general, are not in Class 1. They can't be, because not many guys are Class 1! This is the case across the animal kingdom; the alpha males mate heavily, and the betas fight for scraps. No, most rapists are Class 2, since that's where the supply is.

The problem with your power-wise reductionism is that it really makes us think we have to worry about every power hungry fiend raping everyone around them. There are an enormous number of very powerful people, in their particular realms. Them having power, them even wanting way more power, does not make them potential rapists!

But if you made them very cold, they'd use their power to get heat.

If you made them very hungry, they'd use their power to get food.

If you make them very horny, they'll use their power to get sex. So, yes. If you've got someone who's accustomed to applying power to get what he needs, and you force him into an environment where he needs sex, he'll use power to get sex.

But it's not going to be some fuzzy "assertion of their personal existence", Toma. Dude wants to get off, like Dude wants to get some food, or Dude is fucking cold.

Really want to stop Prison Rape? Deal with the lizard brain in its own language ("get someone to agree to sex; if we take it, we lose food").

Note, most of what we consider barbaric, involves deprivation to the lizard brain. Human rights describe what it wants.
posted by effugas at 6:32 AM on February 12, 2007


Doug--

Feds monitor, and enforce their rules much more strictly than the states. It's where the funding is. For the record, I suspect they don't have much less prison _sex_, just less prison _rape_. Sex will always be a commodity in prison.

Gray--

I have nothing to add to your statement here, I am in complete agreement.
posted by effugas at 6:35 AM on February 12, 2007


Re: the call girls solution.

Yeah, I'm sure loads of women would fight to get the job! Let's explore the solutions which involve treating women as objects to satisfy the men's sexual needs!

Everything will be solved!
posted by Sijeka at 6:44 AM on February 12, 2007


No no no! I'm seeing the ultimate public/private partnership. Government Porn! If we get those coming of jizzus people to do it we can even fund it as a faith based initiative. We'll let the magic of the invisible hand sort it all out!
posted by mock at 6:49 AM on February 12, 2007


Sijeka,

Oh dear god, you don't actually think I'm advocating call girls?! I'm not advocating anything, except recognition that the core of the problem is men's sexual needs, and not some vague desire to "assert their personal existence".

It's a lack of this recognition that directly led to castration being taken off the table. But the data says very clearly that castration makes rape 2% as likely. I don't necessarily approve of castration as a solution. But I definitely don't approve of people getting raped.

I suspect we don't disagree.
posted by effugas at 6:50 AM on February 12, 2007


Metafilter: The Magic Of The Invisible Hand
posted by effugas at 6:51 AM on February 12, 2007


Power is not sex. Sex is not power. These are different things, different concepts, and frankly, different parts of our brain. The entire concept of a social heirarchy exists in a far different world than reproduction and the desire for sexual stimulation.

Human beings are primates, right? Other primates use sex as a way of establishing dominance within a social heirarchy (Baboons, Chimpanzees).

For many primates, the concept of a social heirarchy is strongly connected to the desire for sexual stimulation: Sexual intercourse plays a major role in Bonobo society, being used as a greeting, a means of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation, and as favors traded by the females in exchange for food.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:58 AM on February 12, 2007


UbuRoivas, Human Flesh, effugas, pleeker, thank you for your comments.

You've help me get at the heart of what bothers me most about the rape=power argument.

(stay with me here - this is going to seem like a stretch)
I work with affluent church-goers and in my efforts to help them better interface with the disenfranchised poor in our urban center one of the greatest blocks I run into is their deeply-entrenched category errors - they view the homeless population as an "other" and in no way wish to associate themselves with "those poor, sick people."

They tell themselves that the homeless are homeless because they are mentally ill - in this way they (the parishioners) suffer no fear of ever becoming homeless. After all, the parishioners are decidedly not mentally ill, therefore nothing like homelessness could ever happen to them.

When we tell ourselves that rapists are out looking for power or control, we are defining rapists and criminals who rape people as an "other," a category to which we, ourselves, could never belong to.

Because... *drumroll*... we love having sex just as much as rapists do, and this makes us very, very uncomfortable.

We must be honest about our nature as human animals if we are ever going to get at the root of these problems.

Also, if chemical castration prevents further rapes, I think that pretty much wraps the whole thing up for me.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:59 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Human rights are not a la carte, you can't pick and choose which ones to apply and to whom. Not because of some wishy washy let's all love each other feeling, it's because otherwise you're undermining some very basic foundations of a modern legal system that took centuries to develop, for a reason.

Just thought that deserved repeating.

Also: This thread is going a lot better than previous ones on the same difficult topic. Kudos to all.

To me, it's quite obvious that if there were a serious intent on the part of prison authorities to keep rape from happening, it would be reduced to the level of, say, violent assaults on guards: it would happen, but not that often, because it would be severely punished. It's the wink-wink attitude, far more than either the sex drive or the will to power of the prisoners, that has brought about the current situation. (Compare torture in Turkish prisons.)

Just for reference: in czarist prisons, which were viewed with horror by right-thinking people at the time (who, of course, had no idea how much worse their replacements would be), you could have visitors pretty much at will, line your cell with books, have Marxist discussion groups, and send stuff out to be published (assuming, of course, you weren't in a dungeon like the Peter and Paul Fortress, which only a few were). Prisoners who were badly treated (e.g., addressed contemptuously by guards or denied the opportunity to meet and discuss politics) could complain to St. Petersburg and sometimes get the prison governor replaced (unless Russia was in a particularly repressive phase). The very thought of the conditions that prevail in modern U.S. prisons would have caused riots and perhaps a revolution. We've come a long way, baby!
posted by languagehat at 7:10 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Human animals? What about the fact that our entire societies are largely based on "pacts", "treaties", or even "democracies", "laws" in which a country's destiny is entirely put in the hands of the people? Aren't those structures built thanks to the fact that we're able to reason? To separate right from wrong? To not act on our impulses?

Castraction would mean that human beings are unable to not act on their pulsions, or consider crime or rape as "wrong"- in fact it would assert that we are all animals responding to chemical (im)balances.

I refuse to believe that; that all of the prison's inhabitants are sociopaths, with zero chance to ever be rehabilitated.

"Human animals" sounds to me like a big-ass excuse to get away with many things.

(that said for the record, I'd like to see rapists serving longers sentences, and loathe the idea to release rapists from jail, which probably nullify my argument. I'd also like to see more than 5.6% of them convincted and sent to jail in the UK (BBC link)).

Effugas - point taken, fair enough.
posted by Sijeka at 7:14 AM on February 12, 2007


Eideteker: I know it falls under the category of cruel and unusual, but I can't think of a punishment that's too severe for driving drunk. Problem is, a lot of times prison leaves a person unable to return to society 'rehabilitated' (as they're supposed to) and all that rapin' doesn't help. Still, goddamn drunken drivers.

Are you kidding me? "I can't think of a punishment that's too severe for driving drunk?" Maybe public torture would be better—surely there's something more cruel and unusual than just a malfunctioning prison system. Maybe something that would, in addition to being delightfully and disproportionately cruel, actually reduce the rate of recidivism? Or does that detract too much from the severity?
posted by felix grundy at 8:00 AM on February 12, 2007


Actually, I think all alcohol should be tainted with poison. Or just strong nitric/sulfuric acid. That way no one will drink and drive. Ever. Seriously, ever think about how many people you encounter on an average drive? Hundreds of women, children, and elderly (because no on cares about men) every time you drive. You could kill any one of them, or a group of them; that, in my mind, is like conspiracy to commit 100 murders with each infraction (and he was only caught three times). Driving drunk is like saying "fuck you!" to everyone on the road. Ass rape is like your cell mate saying "fuck you, too!" only he means it literally.
posted by Eideteker at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2007


1) Just as a thought: the "rape as power" paradigm may have been driven from the "victim's" aspect of rape, and then mis-attributed to (whatever the internal processes of the) rapist themselves... (does anyone have any idea where the origins of this theory come from? is it Foucolt?)

From the perspective of the victim, powerlessness is an essential and necessary component that must be dealt with in coping with the event. But this powerlessness as effugas points and others point out may or may not have anything part of the process of understanding the intent of drive of the rapist himself. (I seem to think that it could be a mix of social/biological/hate/deprivation/(and the so called "power") factors... but i can totally understand why this theory would stand for so long...


2) At first I thought Carol Ann's point here

Some of the prison "rapes" probably were consensual or semi-consensual sex . Distribution of condoms in prisons would make sex safer.


was originally questionable... i doubt many people - no matter how-repressed would use a prison environment as a suddenly "acceptable" place to "experiment." And in anycase would the provision of condoms change anything in the MAJORITY of non-consensual prison rape cases?!
However a couple extra and related thoughts came up:

3) I don't know much about, nor can I see any parsable links, but I always wondered aboutthe effect of prison/ prison sex on the black male community and the existance of the "down low" brother culture...

4) There was an interesting exchange in a late Sopranos episode when the issue of homosexuality came up. Tony was very adamant that homosexual behavior is wrong and not abidable.. When the issue of prison sex came up though he basically stated that homosexual sex in prison happens because functionally it has to for men, but he emphasized that whatever stays in prison stays in prison....
posted by stratastar at 8:16 AM on February 12, 2007


Effugas, I think you have the argument backwards.
Rape = power does not mean the powerful are more likely to rape someone. Rape = power means by committing rape, a person gains power. People lacking power are more likely to commit rape, not people with power.

If you strip someone of power (or their belief that they have power), they'll try to exert power where ever they can. The jackass with road rage is trying to exert power because they feel powerless. The rapist is similiarly trying to exert power because of a lack of power elsewhere.

On the outside, it's usually the man who feels he doesn't have power over women or a specific woman that will resort to raping her to gain power.

Inside a prison, the lack of power over their own lives will cause inmates to try and exert power in the small ways they can. Becuase prison rape is not punished or taken seriously, it's one of the main ways a prisoner can exert power in his environment & fellow inmates. Fighting/killing will get them sent to solitary, but raping leads to power/prestige.
posted by Crash at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2007


(small because this is way off-topic, but I can't let this pass...)

Eideteker: Anybody who pays more attention to their kids in the back seat, the application of their make-up in the rear-view mirror, the configuration of their radio, or the conversation on their cellphone than to the task of driving is similarly giving a big "fuck you" to the other motorists on the road. I see this every single day on my commute to work. (Hell, most cops I see driving have a cell phone pressed to their ear.)

Ass-rapings for everybody!

I'm sorry if you've lost somebody to a drunk driver (just a guess), but most accidents, including collisions with drunk drivers, could be avoided if people would pay proper attention to the task of driving. Drunk driving is certainly a problem, but lack of attention, IMO, is a bigger problem -- trouble is, it's impossible to quantify (police need an attent-o-meter!) and very difficult to regulate.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I would rather share the road with an attentive drunk driver than an inattentive sober driver.

posted by LordSludge at 9:10 AM on February 12, 2007


My point was actually less about drunk driving and more about cruel and unusual punishment—a specific version of leftcoastbob's comment way back up there.

I recognize that responsibility is a delicate thing to pin down. Someone driving drunk does so without the explicit intention of murdering anyone, I imagine; nonetheless, that doesn't change the extent to which they are responsible if they actually do so. (60% of drivers, I'm talking to you here. Scroll down.) Some calculus of the likelihood of the second is involved in punishing people for the possibility of a crime not yet committed—and yeah, I know that drunk driving is in itself a crime, but it is so not because of criminal intent on the driver's part but because of its measurably increased potential to turn into irreversible harm.

Do you become more responsible for recognizing the potential of your own actions after multiple offenses? Yeah, seems like you should. They make you go through a lot of programs and counseling in most states, and it seems that you ought to come out of it with an increased knowledge of what's at stake, and thus with an increased reflective responsibility towards your own actions. Sentencing laws reflect this.

Does that mean that on the third offense it's a conscious "fuck you" to the entire world? I'm not sure that this follows. It seems more likely that it's a continued failure to appreciate the likely consequences of one's own actions—more like, "Yes, it would be terrible if I killed somebody, but that's not going to happen," rather than "Fuck you world, I'm not taking no cab when my car's right here." Is this false? Yes. Is it criminally false? Yes. And, again, we punish it as such. But that's not the point.

Two things, then:

One: The consequences of this neglect are indeed likely to be terrible. However, there is a difference between it and the conscious negation of human sovereignty involved in inflicting damage on someone who is right there in front of you suffering the immediate and actual consequence of your actions.

Two: This further "punishment" has nothing to do with the original crime and is thus not punishment at all. To treat it as further justice is misplaced vigilanteism. This is why it's no more 'fair' for a murderer to be violently raped in prison than it is for someone in on lesser charges to be.
posted by felix grundy at 9:12 AM on February 12, 2007


Drug them all. Give them something that's proven to remove the sex drive entirely, and that also removes the anxiety over said loss. And feed them that crazy vegetarian punishment loaf that makes them all soft and weepy. Make them watch "Reading Rainbow" and Al Jarreau videos. Drug them so they sleep soundly at night.

The ones who cause problems, or won't take their drugs, get plucked out and put in solitary, where their doses can be better monitored. So what, maybe everyone in prison becomes a shambling toddler with few memories of incarceration. That's better than an AIDS-infected punk with hate and fear tangoing through his id, or a gunned-up rapist looking to fuck his way back inside.

There's no pretense of rehabilitation now; why not just knock convicts out for a few years, retrain COs as nurses to change the IV drips, and wake the cons when their number comes up?

Sure, it's unusual, but it's a lot less cruel than what we have now. Prisoners doped to the eyes would be unable to teach one another how to be better criminals, unable to coerce one another into joining gangs, unable to mount any revolts (or, for that matter, costly legal appeals). Win-win situation.

Plus, they'd have a lifelong fondness for smooth jazz when they got out. Nothing kills the rape mood like smooth jazz.
posted by breezeway at 9:17 AM on February 12, 2007


felix grundy:This further "punishment" has nothing to do with the original crime and is thus not punishment at all. To treat it as further justice is misplaced vigilanteism. (emphasis mine)

This is a great, concise statement of the root of the problem, of why it will never be addressed in any systemic sort of way.

I wonder what the overlap of people who condone prison rape and those who approve of police taser use as "street justice" are? (For bonus points, include their political and/or religious bent in your Venn diagram.)

Also, WTF is wrong with these people? Seriously, what is at the core of people that this sort of rationalization is acceptable?
posted by LordSludge at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2007


I wonder what the overlap of people who condone prison rape and those who approve of police taser use as "street justice" are? (For bonus points, include their political and/or religious bent in your Venn diagram.)

Well, venn diagrams can only represent up to four types of things.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 AM on February 12, 2007


"Eideteker: Anybody who pays more attention to their kids in the back seat, the application of their make-up in the rear-view mirror, the configuration of their radio, or the conversation on their cellphone than to the task of driving is similarly giving a big "fuck you" to the other motorists on the road. I see this every single day on my commute to work. (Hell, most cops I see driving have a cell phone pressed to their ear.) Ass-rapings for everybody!"

Yay! You get it! Of course, a moment's inattention is different from a prolonged inebriation. No one was ever momentarily drunk (good band name!)

"I'm sorry if you've lost somebody to a drunk driver"

And I'm sorry if a loved one's ever been man-raped.

(If you're still taking me seriously, I'm the guy advocating turning the other cheek in the redneck thread. Drunk driving does suck, though, as does prison rape (sometimes literally). Having a drunk rape you by driving a car up your anus is probably even worse.)
posted by Eideteker at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2007


Also, WTF is wrong with these people? Seriously, what is at the core of people that this sort of rationalization is acceptable?

For starters it's not them being raped. Also, anyone in jail MUST be a bad guy and MUST deserve it, yes?
posted by illiad at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2007


I can understand why we don't care what happens to those people in prison

i understand this to a point. but tell that to teenage kids thrown in adult maximum security on trumped up charges. i know someone this happened to, sentenced on his 16th birthday. his defense counsel was a real estate attorney with no prior criminal defense experience. not to mention he was convicted using a "confession" the cops tricked him into without an attorney or guardian present (i.e. against the law).
posted by andywolf at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2007


There has to be something at cultural level too to make this happen.

This is really just off the top of my head, but I'm guessing:
(1) a popular zeitgeist of "might makes right".
(2) an obsessively moral (as opposed to social) fixation on sexuality.
posted by PsychoKick at 10:47 AM on February 12, 2007


(1) a popular zeitgeist of "might makes right".

Might does make right, at least in these kinds of situations. This is why the little guy can't stop it when the big guy starts the raping, and why the big guy can't stop it when five or six little guys start the raping. And "might makes right" is also why the prison guards could stop the five or six little guys, if they wanted to.

Pretending as though might doesn't make right is half the problem, here -- look at the report, with all these quotes from prison guards along the lines of, "oh, you should just stand up for yourself, lil' guy, you just let that big guy make you suck his dick". Uh huh, because 150 lb. guys are magically able to stop 300 lb. guys from raping them, through application of the Seven Hidden Steps of Vibrating Death Palm or something. And meanwhile, the guards are the ones who do have the might, but they absolve themselves of the situation through this ridiculous "you'll stop it if you're a real man" fantasy.

Maybe if we stop lying to ourselves about what "might makes right" really means, we'd get somewhere... because since might does make right, asking the weakest part of the population to prevent prison rape is like asking the lamb to prevent wolf attacks, all while the shepherd and his dog take a well-deserved nap.

Hell, even simply accepting prison rape and turning the entire yard into an inmate-run, punk-based micro-economy would probably be more moral than our current "rape is bad bad bad except in prison where it doesn't happen and if it did you should have fought it off" hypocrisy.
posted by vorfeed at 11:31 AM on February 12, 2007


I think that on this subject, you can't underestimate the overwhelmingly alien concept of prison culture. My knowledge of it is second hand at best, but even pictures I've seen from a friend visiting relatives (plural!) on visiting day were so imbued with a sense of "otherness" that they might as well have been pictures from his trip to the mythical land of Narnia.

Outside rules do not always apply. From what i've heard "outside thinking" is a good way to get yourself seriously damaged once you're "inside". And "inside" thinking is the reason recidivism rates are as high as they are.

It's also a good idea to reconsider your concept of who the average prisoner is. It's easy to think they're all murderers and rapists and and violent attackers of society. Most inmates enter the prison system as juveniles, and spend a lot of time going in and out of jail, mostly because they have no concept of how to function in normal society. A lot of really stupid and consistent patterns of low level criminal behavior, largely drug related. Mostly of an ignorant nature that the average member of society would scratch their head in sheer amazement, as I have done on a number of occasions.

Basically... there are entire segments of society that are so broken, that rather than even think about how to fix them, I devote large amounts of energy to simply keepng them as far away from me as possible. Sounds apathetic, but as someone said above...

"The fact is, if you are of a certain age, and race, and socio-economic class, you're going to go to prison, and you're going to get sexually, physically, and psychically abused. And if you're not, you won't."

I'd bet my commissary he was picturing someone who looks a lot like myself.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:09 PM on February 12, 2007


I am a little wary of accepting every detail of this account as absolute truth. It seems to me a hallmark of a contrived story that the teller casts himself as a perfect victim, under assault by the combined forces of what amounts to the entire universe he contacts. His offense was "only" DUI; he had "no idea" what to expect in prison. Two opposing groups of prisoners, the "staff" and the "hearing officer" all menace him. There is no such thing as protective custody and he "probably" has AIDS, i.e., the prison medical staff either refuse to see him or else deliberately refuse to test him for HIV.

Now, if part or all of this particular account is fabricated, that does not change the fact that rape and other forms of violence are an enormous problem in U.S. prisons. But I think HRW could have found a better and, frankly, more plausible example.
posted by La Cieca at 12:26 PM on February 12, 2007


The moment has probably come and gone, but I wanted to address something upthread. Civil_Disobedient mentioned staying in solitary confinement as a valid option and others riffed on this idea. The problem in US prisons is that "protective confinement" is the same solitary cell used as punishment for offenders in the general population. There is no bed, toilet, books, or even a place for books. There are seldom pencils or paper (toilet or otherwise). Solitary consists of you, the clothes on your back, a blanket, a foam pad, a hole in the floor, and probably working overhead lighting8212;which is remotely controlled. People try protective confinement for as long as they can tolerate it, but six months of no contact and nothing to distract you but your own thoughts is more than most humans can tolerate. When the options are batshitinsane or ass rape, it's a devil's choice. That this is the case in our prisons is a fundamental stain on our collective conscience.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2007


“...therefore nothing like homelessness could ever happen to them”

Yeah, those kinds of folks irritate the hell out of me. I tend to hum “Like a Rolling Stone” around those folks (even as I ask for cash).
Similarly, yes, very few of us can imagine ourselves as rapists. I’m sympathetic to this as a general concept having a fair been a fairly nasty fucker in my youth. Insofar as me being a rapist goes tho, it’d never happen. Not that I’m better than anyone or anything, I say that not in the sense that I’m morally above it, but from the position of knowing what is in me. Or rather, what’s not. I don’t sexualize that way.

Which - I don’t know about the whole sex/rape vs. power/rape thing - but it seems that sex is the impetus and power is how it translates itself. Plenty of things do that. Some thieves get hard ons sneaking through windows. Thievery in some regards, that infiltrative aspect, is about sex. We all have things that we sexualize or use that sexual energy to drive. It is (as has been stated) a primal drive. Bit different from the other basic ones however in that it seems to be more purely energy -unlike say eating. Although one can (and many have) sexualized eating. I know of few people who associate eating with other things (Ed Gein comes to mind - devouring seems to be a sort of primal drive it’s bad to associate most other things with). Eating is social, certainly. And there’s a socialized power structure there, ritual, etc.

And often those rituals are there to protect us from the more dangerous aspects of those primal urges from manifesting themselves socially.
Many of those rituals have evolved into laws. And as we all have those primal urges, so too must the law be equal in all eyes.
DUI isn’t a more egregious crime such that it must be some sort of exception in punishment. If some drunk struck and killed my daughter, say, I might very well kill him. Either on the scene or later. That it was my kid killed doesn’t give me some special license to exert my primal urges on another. There must be no exceptions otherwise the system has no use as a method of restraining ourselves from acting from that lizard brain all the time.
So, Vorfeed, I get what you’re saying. And indeed, might is a factor in any interaction, but it doesn’t make it “right” in the moral sense or the sense that it is the proper way things should occur. Any threat like this to any human being anywhere is a threat to us all.
Many cops face this dilemma in that - one might know a given person is guilty - that is given experiance, what one has witnessed here, any number of very compelling factors - but be unable to prove it through the legal system. And they’re tempted to plant evidence or beat a confession or any number of things. Taking the law into their own hands. And sometimes, or even often, maybe they’re right - in that - they’ve made the correct assessment and the bastard is indeed guilty.
But what the guilty deserve and what any one of us is capable of meting out are two different things.
The law protects the guilty guy from me stringing him up by his balls, certainly. But it also protects me from stringing the guilty guy up by his balls.
You see, if I act from that source, from that primal need - and indeed, even if it’s translated into the highest motives such as wishing to see justice done - I’m harming society (in that I no longer participate in the healthy rituals we’ve established) and myself - as much as obviating any form of self-discipline harms me - if I started grossly overeating and refused to exercise or if having sex took over my life and I lost my job.
Those latter things are more gross and obvious self-destructive acts which have an immediate benefit (orgasm, satiation, etc.) but we see clearly that those benefits are transient.
It is often harder to see how heavily outweighed some transient benefits are by more restrained and cooperative behavior.

And that’s what that all is - cooperation. In this case vs. non-cooperation, which makes the harm all the more obvious.

So while I might agree that rape has something to do with sex, that part of it is irrelevent in this context. It is more about non-cooperation (in favor of that primal urge). And really - go figure social outcasts would engage in self-gratification over cooperation. Driven by sexual urge - ok, but how we target it must be from the social/legal aspect - and it must be equal in all eyes. Otherwise our own balls or ovaries are up for grabs as well.

Not a refutation of any position per se, more musing.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:30 PM on February 12, 2007


Just slip an anaphrodisiac in the prisoners' food every day.
posted by MythMaker at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2007


vorfeed, I get the feeling that we're in 100% agreement, but the terminology is getting in the way (or rather a lack of terminology, since my initial post was admittedly sparse...). Specifically, the definition of "might make right".

From what I gather, your definition is basically "those who can and do exercise power, will end up setting the rules and reality of the situation". Which I agree certainly holds true in these kinds of situations.

However, my initial post referred to a popular zeitgeist, the more popular layman's idea of "might makes right". The idea that it takes nothing more that a simple exercise of force and will to make things OK, and by extension that the fault lies with those who cannot. Basically, the same apathetic attitude you decried in the prison guards: "you'll stop it if you're a real man". Yes, it is an inherently hypocritical stance, but popular definitions are often so.

Maybe if we stop lying to ourselves about what "might makes right" really means, we'd get somewhere...

Indeed.
posted by PsychoKick at 12:55 PM on February 12, 2007


So, Vorfeed, I get what you’re saying. And indeed, might is a factor in any interaction, but it doesn’t make it “right” in the moral sense or the sense that it is the proper way things should occur.

Maybe... I agree with what you're saying about cooperation, but to me, the quote above is a lot like saying that "speed is a factor in velocity, but it doesn’t make it “right” in the moral sense or the sense that it is the proper way things should occur." Might makes right is, and all our moral pontification since the beginning of time hasn't changed that. It's entirely possible to change social values that relate to might, but it isn't possible to eliminate it entirely. Unlike economics or social mores (which are human constructs that societies can alter as much as they'd like), might is a fact of the physical world. I think it's better to admit this and work within reality than to keep clinging to social mores that say that might is "improper" or "wrong", even though it pervades the world we live in.

In short, if we don't like certain effects of the fact that "might makes right", we ought to be mitigating them in a realistic way that takes the physical reality of might into account. Locking a 150 lb. guy in a cage with a 300 lb. guy and then going, "gosh, I didn't think the big guy would rape the little guy!" is beyond incredulous. It is entirely possible to design a prison environment that prevents most prison rape, but it is NOT possible to do so while simultaneously operating under the assumption that because might "shouldn't" make right, we won't bother to include it in our assessment of the problem.

However, my initial post referred to a popular zeitgeist, the more popular layman's idea of "might makes right". The idea that it takes nothing more that a simple exercise of force and will to make things OK, and by extension that the fault lies with those who cannot.

Agreed. To me, it's obvious that many people in America have admitted the positive side of "might makes right", but not the negative side. That is to say, they're quite happy with the idea that they can stomp that little bitch in the corner, but they won't admit that this also means that the even bigger guy in the other corner can stomp them next. I'm small and female, and that's half the reason why I have to admit the whole of what "might makes right" means... but I think we have way too many people who are ridiculously isolated from physical reality, so much so that they've forgotten that unless they're THE BIGGEST IN THE WORLD MUHAHAHA, there's always a bigger guy out there. For instance, I'll bet every single one of these prison guards would have been raped if they had been in the same situation as these prisoners, so how can they, with a straight face, pull the "why didn't you stop it" card? Answer: because they are so disconnected from reality that they think Bruce Lee fantasy situations are how rape works. And when you ask how they became so totally deluded, I'd say the idea that might "shouldn't" make right is among the major causes of their disease.
posted by vorfeed at 1:21 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


washburn: "Do something about prison rape? But what would American late night comics do without prison rape jokes?"

Not to mention the gay porn industry.

Ok, I've made my joke, but seriously, this is sick. The idea that people are getting raped in prison is barbaric. If a guy on the outside got raped by another man, the authorities would treat it like the most heinous crime ever committed, even more so than a woman being raped. A lot of law enforcement still operates with the unspoken idea that "women have sex with men anyways, so it's not as big of a deal, but a man getting raped by another man is worse because he might not be gay". Interesting then, that prison authorities seem to not share this general outlook on male on male rape.

My guess is that these kind of crimes actually serve the power structure in most prisons. Yes the guys in prison who will rape other men have a lot of power, but the ones with the most power are the wardens and guards who can decide if they don't like you to assign you to laundry duty (or some other area of the prison where such crimes occur with frequency) or assign you to a predatory cell mate.

And to those who say rape has nothing to do with sex, don't be obtuse. Of course it has to do with sex. Yes, part of it is power and dominance, but there are other ways to assert power and dominance. Rape occurs because the rapist seeks sexual gratification with power, dominance and violence as an added bonus. Ask the guy from the excerpt in the beginning of the article. He states that he has stopped fighting back to prevent physical injury. This obviously did not stop the rapes and you can probably infer that the perpetrators were not getting off less because of the lack of a struggle.

I actually agree somewhat with jonmc's assessment. The primary onus for prison rape is the lack of ordinarily desirable partners (ie. women). Add to the mix a population of men who by virtue of the fact that they are criminals, have already shown that they crave power and violence (most of them, anyways), and a power structure created by the prison officials themselves that indirectly rewards violence towards other prisoners, and voila, you have the epidemic that is prison rape today.
posted by katyggls at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2007


After reading through this very dense thread, I have to ask myself, what is the criteria for working as a CO in the U.S.?

I make the assumption that most of the posters here are USAians. I'm getting the impression that a lot of U.S. correctional staff are less-than-intelligent knuckle draggers. In Canada, you don't get to serve as an officer in a lockup unless you've had some considerable training, prefaced with at least a couple of years of post-secondary Criminology. And competition to get in was tough. At least that's the way it was in my day.
posted by illiad at 1:34 PM on February 12, 2007


After reading through this very dense thread, I have to ask myself, what is the criteria for working as a CO in the U.S.?

Here in New Mexico, you have to attend the NM Corrections Academy class, and you have to pass some physical, psychological, and drug tests. The main entry requirement for the Academy is a high-school diploma or the equivalent.

"Q: What are the minimum job requirements?
A: At least 18 years old, high school graduate or GED, U.S. citizen, no felony convictions, and pass all phases of screening. There is no upper age limit.
[...]No prior experience necessary!"

I see a lot of billboards and ads for these jobs; they are at slightly higher than the level of mall rent-a-cop (and well below the level of most beginner police cadets) in terms of respect, training, and pay. However, like most things in the US, this varies from state-to-state.
posted by vorfeed at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2007


Thanks, vorfeed. Good grief, standards such as those don't exactly fill one with faith in the system, do they?

In .ca, or at least in the B.C. Correctional system, the position of C.O. has (had?) some respect. Much if not all of the testing was at the police level, and the competition was similarly tough. A lot of cop-wannabes used Corrections as a stepping stone. I was on my way to the RCMP myself until two years of working in max sec remand convinced me law enforcement probably wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
posted by illiad at 2:20 PM on February 12, 2007


Private Prisons See Rise in Profits
posted by homunculus at 2:23 PM on February 12, 2007


My guess is that these kind of crimes actually serve the power structure in most prisons.

I agree, if it is tolerated to a certain extent it's for a reason.

I also think prisons should allow visits from outside partners (of any kind) and time alone with them, maybe not for major offenders, but there is no reason to deprive most inmates of (relatively, since it'd still be in prison) normal sexual interaction. It's counterproductive, not just for the issue of rape. But it'd be something that fits more with the unpopular concept of prison as rehabilitation, rather than punishment alone.
posted by pleeker at 2:23 PM on February 12, 2007


What about requested chastity belts? That is, you request one, and they put you on lockdown? That doesn't deal with the oral situation, but I imagine forced oral sex is far less traumatic.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:30 PM on February 12, 2007


What about requested chastity belts?

Off the cuff I'd say they'd be more of a problem than a help. Inmates have 24 hours a day to think up how to use what's available around them to stir up trouble. Also, an inmate wearing a belt could have his life threatened if he didn't ask to have it removed.

I'm personally all for an earlier prison model. You spend 18-20 hours a day alone in your cell. No comforts other than books to read and educate yourself. The rest of the time you're eating, doing laundry, exercising in the yard under strict supervision and you do not talk to other inmates.
posted by illiad at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2007


fandango_matt, you are responding to a *completely* different thing to what I said, which was *not* that rape is the same as BDSM.

Here's a basic synopsis that might highight the sleight-of-hand involved in the "rape = power, not sex" argument:

Rape, by definition, involves power. It involves using power to obtain 'sex' without consent.

Rape, by definition, also involves 'sex' / 'sexual'-type acts. In this way, it is blatantly different to other means of using power against others, eg violence, extortion, murder etc. It is impossible to deny that it involves 'sex'.

Every rape, by definition, therefore, involves power & it involves sex.

The sleight-of-hand comes about when people replace 'involves' with 'is about'. This at once creates a false opposition, or at least a false competition regarding what it is 'more' about. It also tries to create a false homogeny between all rapes - from a horny teenager who decides to have his way with a severely drunk girl, to a guy who gets off on dominating others.

In both cases both power & sex are involved, but in different dynamics. In the former case, it is more power as a means to sex, and in the latter, it involves power as an aphrodisiac.

Finally, trying to claim what it is 'about' attempts to project a psychological understanding of the rapist, such that, as Baby_Balrog argued, we can distance rapists, and rape-'sex' as something somehow completely different to 'normal' sex, which, of course, is always vanilla & sugared rose petals.

Anyway, fandango, BDSM is indeed different to rape, as it involves consent. I think everybody knows that. It could be described consent dressed up as a lack of consent, with a safety-escape if the drama becomes too much. But, like rape, it involves both sex and (at least the illusion of) power. In this way, at least, they are quite similar, and you cannot deny that BDSM is 'about' sex.

Listener, I'm not attacking you, in particular. "Rewrite: Rape is often more about power than just sex" is a good rewrite, and avoids the unsubtlety of the mantra. It's just that to say it is not 'about' sex is a pretty ludicrous position to me, and seems to frame the discussion in a particularly unenlightening & other-ish way.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:44 PM on February 12, 2007


“but it is NOT possible to do so while simultaneously operating under the assumption that because might "shouldn't" make right, we won't bother to include it in our assessment of the problem.”

Agreed. But I’d say “speed is a factor in velocity, but it doesn’t make it “right” in the moral sense...” is accurate. Force is a factor and should be included in the assessment of the problem. But, factual as it may be, it is not a valid method of interaction and is ultimately self-defeating (in that it is self-destructive as much as any of the above examples, overeating, sexual compulsiveness, etc. etc.) Eliminating might from the equation does in fact take some might. The difference is in the agreement, the cooperation.

I myself have several natural and artificial advantages when it comes to dealing in force. I might want to exploit those advantages to get more - whatever - for myself. But I recognize that I must agree to and cooperate with the law. Since, however bad-ass I might be - there are other bad-asses out there as bad or badder and indeed, many not-so-bad-asses who can team up against me (or plan well). So at that level we all agree to and cooperate with the law recognizing that it is ultimately in our own self-interests. No matter what level of might we might be capapble of.
So the 300 lb. guy in the cage with the 150 lb guy might result in rape. But it shouldn’t. That recognizes not that because all of us in society constitute the majority are stronger than the 300 lb guy he has to listen to us - but that - because we all agree to cooperate so that interpersonal force is not misused in this way - we grant ourselves license to use force we would not otherwise use individually.
So too I could break the 300 lb. guy in half to stop him from raping - but if I don’t have a badge or I’m not socially sanctioned to do so - my justification isn’t legitimate. And indeed, I’m limited in the amount of force I can use - so I can’t just break him in half.
And again, these things do happen, rape, violence in prevention of whatever crime - but not legitimately. The people who perpetrate these kind of things do so in the dark, generally, away from the open observed and socially approved of exersize of power.

It’s sorta the answer to the rational anarchist question: “what is it the group can do morally that an individual can’t?” And the answer there of course is - police themselves. Who watches the watchman? We all do.
If I’m wearing a badge, that represents not only the might of society, but the oversight that I cannot just bust heads because I personally think rape is wrong - whether it actually is or isn’t the case that whatever given act is moral or not (e.g. I might think homosexuality is wrong and bust the heads of gay men).
And the opposite can be true - in that the individual can be morally superior to the current social status quo - slavery in the U.S. comes to mind.
But that moral right doesn’t inherently grant the right to use force. Indeed, the most effective acts and individuals who have acted from a morally superior postion have eschewed force (MLK, Ghandi, Socrates, et.al.). So might as a factor - the use of force - is indeed somewhat divorced from whatever the subject is at hand. Just not in the manner you stated, which we agree on.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2007



how would you defecate with an anal chastity belt? that's simply not feasible, basically.

rape is far less of a problem in women's prisons, as is violence, cross-culturally. Rape is clearly about *both* sex and power.

second, prison rape is far more common in the U.S. than in places like Europe. so, the conditions of incarceration and social expectations also come into play-- in the U.S., we think "they deserve it" whereas Europeans seem to find that idea less palatable.

essentially, this is a problem we could dramatically reduce if we cared to do so. the fact that we do not says some pretty distressing things about america.
posted by Maias at 3:51 PM on February 12, 2007


rape is far less of a problem in women's prisons, as is violence, cross-culturally. Rape is clearly about *both* sex and power.

Except when when they get raped by guards...
posted by delmoi at 4:43 PM on February 12, 2007


But, factual as it may be, it is not a valid method of interaction and is ultimately self-defeating (in that it is self-destructive as much as any of the above examples, overeating, sexual compulsiveness, etc. etc.)

My point is that moral judgments like these ("might is not a valid method of interaction", "might is ultimately self-defeating") fall down in the real world. In our prison system, might is clearly a valid method of interaction that is not self-defeating. The guys who rape get what they want. The guys who are raped do not. Violent rapist == winner, non-violent raped == loser. There's absolutely nothing self-defeating about being a violent rapist in this context. In fact, if you read the accounts in the link, it becomes clear that being on the might-side of violence is about the only action that's NOT self-defeating in our prisons. Therefore, starting from broad moral assumptions like these puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding prison rape, because they simply don't apply to the situation.

Problems that we could easily solve by thinking in terms of might as an inevitability become impossible to solve when we think of might as being a "wrong". We get caught up in airy questions like "why would anyone ever want to do a thing like that?", rather than practical questions like "how do we minimize the negative consequences when people inevitably do things like that?" We lose sight of reality when we see might as nothing but an invalid method of interaction based on some social contract. The truth is that all social contracts are opt-in. Anyone can break them at any time, so we can't just think of might in terms of the contract, because some people are always going to be operating outside of it... and outside of the social contract, might always makes right.
posted by vorfeed at 4:43 PM on February 12, 2007


I would do a couple things. The fist, and most obvious, is constant monitoring. Make sure every cell is camera'd and taped. Then, make prison rape a felony with a life sentenced attached. Any complaint, and the tape would be reviewed. Then, if guilty the perp would spend the rest of their lives in solitary confinement.
posted by delmoi at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just imagine a judge handing down this sentence: "I hearby sentence you, Joe Blow, to 14 years of being gang raped several times weekly." Sounds ludicrous in any civilized country, yet that's how it is, in practice.

I'm for mandatory chemical castration for all inmates. It's not a perfect solution, but it's reversable and far preferable to repeated gang rape -- or even the possibility of such. The ones who would object the most would be the potential rapists, not the potential victims. (But what side-effects are there?)

And even if rape weren't an issue, I, for one, would rather have my sex drive just *gone* if I were ever in prison.
posted by LordSludge at 5:15 PM on February 12, 2007


I didn't see anyone mention the fact that some prison rape happens for profit. Some gangs dominate then pimp their victims. Prisons have very vibrant economies, usually goods being traded (cigarettes are the traditional equivalent of cash, but of course drugs are also traded. In some settings, meals are also traded).

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Prison should be the safest place possible. It should not be possible for violence to occur without immediate consequences to the perpetrator. This is especially the case in institutions housing the violently criminal. That it is not the case is a shining example of the state refusing to live up to its responsibilities.
posted by Goofyy at 4:28 AM on February 13, 2007


Again, the moment is probably long gone, but I do wish those of you arguing that prison rape is not primarily an enunciation of power had actually read the linked report's authoritative (and, to me, convincing) section on the subject.

I'd tend to think those cited know what the hell they're talking about - certainly, more so than any of us.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:29 AM on February 13, 2007


“My point is that moral judgments like these ("might is not a valid method of interaction", "might is ultimately self-defeating") fall down in the real world.”

And my point is that we create the “real world.” Having used quite a bit of might myself I’m an authority to speak on it’s use. The use of force is ultimately self-defeating in any long term scenario. That’s not some airy sophistry, that’s practical experiance talking. Some generals study strategy, the best generals study logistics - why? Because the use of force is not based on the broadest or most impressive application of violence, but the most precise and efficient use of resources to bring a targeted and proper amount of force to bear. Overkilling is inefficient, not “real world.”
In this instance, rape is a waste of the use of force. Certainly one gains an objective (satisfaction, status) but that’s not a realistic long term strategy.
Now if you wish to pare down the environment you wish to argue about to just the acheivement of satisfaction and define how one “wins” in terms of who rapes who - then I grant, one could argue it’s not self-defeating. But then what about AIDs? Does being larger and more violent guarantee immunity to disease? Indeed, one might be raped oneself - is one then a loser?
The bottom line is that raping is a self-destructive behavior - period. And social contracts are decidedly NOT opt-in. The very fact that prisons exist are proof of that. And indeed, the fact that rape within prisons exists prove that. There is most certainly a social contract created between the punk and the daddy. So the punk can ‘opt out’ any time then?
I am not asserting that in the sense of action might is irrelevent, I am asserting the validity of the use of force against other forms of force because of a moral position.

Furthermore:
"how do we minimize the negative consequences when people inevitably do things like that?"

is a pointless question because I am also arguing that people don’t inevitably do things like that. They do things like that given certain environments. Eliminate the environment and you eliminate the problem. Any given individual will make choices that betters their lives given they understand the situation. In prison, I am arguing, the use of force to make them understand the situation is valid, because otherwise the only alternative is to concede to the naked use of force alone. Either to allow this to continue or to allow for some sort of far more harmful acts done by us (or rather, our agents in the prison). And that’s not a viable option for US to use, because there’s no oversight.
I agree with Goofyy that prisons should be the safest places possible, and the simple fact that force is the only rule in certain quarters does not mean we should abdicate our responsibility to judiciously use force to prevent that.

Is that at all clear?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:16 PM on February 13, 2007


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