Prison rape is no joke

    “Prison officials don’t need a gun; they already have full control over you,” said a former Michigan prisoner who was raped by a correctional officer. She shared her experience with Just Detention International (JDI), an organization working to end the sexual abuse of detainees in prisons and jails around the globe.

    The horror of prison rape has been well-documented by Human Rights Watch (hat tip, Te-Ping Chen at But in American popular culture, the issue of prison rape (when it’s not being ignored), is somehow considered funny, the subject of late-night, drop-the-soap humor. Humor can bring relief to conversations of uncomfortable facts, but it can also dehumanize and trivialize.

    Just Detention International (note the name’s double entendre) seeks to change that dynamic with a moving new campaign. JDI prepared three sets of images.

    The first set challenges the view that prison rape is somehow not really rape:


    The second highlights the health of rape victims:


    The third targets the alleged humor of people being raped:


    Prison rape has reached epidemic proportions in US jails and prisons. Some 60,500 (4.5%) of the 1.3 million people in federal and state prisons were sexually abused in 2006, according to a 2007 Department of Justice study. By one account, one in five male prisoners is sexually abused at some point during his incarceration. Meanwhile, HIV is four times more prevalent, and Hepatitis C is eight to 20 times more prevalent, in US prisons than in society overall.

    Among juveniles in U.S. youth prisons, according to a just-released Department of Justice study, one in eight reported being sexually victimized in the past 12 months (or if they were incarcerated for fewer than 12 months, since they were admitted). Eighty percent of these victims were abused by prison staff.

    Kudos to Just Detention International for humanizing people in prison by depicting them in something other than prison garb. Rape is awful whether it happens to women or men, free or imprisoned. “No matter what crime someone has committed,” says JDI, “sexual violence must never be part of the penalty.”

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