Stop advocating for prison rape

***TW: Frank discussions of sexual violence***

When discussing cases of sexual violence and rapists, quite often I will hear (or read) some variation on the remark, "I hope they get raped in prison."

There are several reasons I am 100% against rape being used as a punishment or corrective tool against abusers.

Firstly, I don't believe anyone deserves sexual violence. Anyone. Name any abhorrent person who has committed the rankest of atrocities and I still do not and will not believe they are deserving of sexual violence. Punishment and removal from society so that they cannot inflict any more harm, definitely. But I do not believe there is any circumstance under which a perpetrator of sexual violence or any other crime should be sexually assaulted.

Secondly, I do not believe that if we determine that only specifically a tiny selection of extra-horrendous crimes deserve to be punishable by rape, that only the criminals who committed those specific crimes will be punished with rape. I feel that is a slippery slope that just helps to exacerbate the problem of using corrective rape for a broad variety of perceived transgressions to put people in their "place".

Third, and perhaps most importantly, who do people think about as committing those rapes? Who are they sanctioning to use rape as a weapon with their approval? Are they sanctioning prisoners who have already been convicted of rape to rape others? How does that help in their potential rehabilitation before being released back into the public? Are they saying that prisoners who have not raped should be the ones to commit the assault? On a practical, functional level, how would that work? To require someone to rape another person is to enact sexual assault against the both of them, because rape and sexual assault also includes coercion and envelopment/ forcing someone to penetrate another person. And, again, most of these inmates would be released back into the public in the future - what kind of counseling or rehabilitation would the state be providing to these inmates that were forced into being state-sanctioned torturers?

For someone who is a guard in a prison that uses rape as a punishment, what would their level of involvement be? Would they have to bring the two (or more) prisoners together? Would they be in charge of subduing the prisoner who was supposed to be raped? Or would it be a more passive involvement, where if they heard someone calling for help they had to ignore the cries and go about their rounds? How would they keep track of the people who were supposed to be raped, and those not?

Now, if the person they expect to carry out the assault is not another prisoner, then it must be one of the guards or other personnel at the prison. The Stanford Prison Experiment is just one case that shows how unequal levels of power in prison environments can create extremely toxic and abusive cultures where escalating levels of violence are used by those in power. Taking an environment that is already fraught with the potential for abuses by those who are being paid and held responsible for the health and safety of the inmates, and adding torture as a legally-sanctioned method of punishment will only escalate the physical and psychological harm for every single inmate held there. Remember - not only murderers and rapists go to prison. Everything from not paying your taxes to being caught with low levels of recreational drugs for personal use can potentially land someone in jail, with the heaviest burden on POC.

Also consider that if it is the guards who are carrying out, facilitating, or just allowing these rapes as a part of their jobs, they go home at the end of the day. They are still members of our communities. How will having rape being a big part of their job description change them? Will they develop PTSD from the stress of having to commit these horrific acts? Or, if they don't develop stress disorders, have we just created new dangers to our communities that can hide behind a position of authority while taking these crimes home with them?

In order for those convicted rapists to "get their comeuppance", someone has to be the one to carry out those acts. And for the number of times I come across those comments, that would account for a very large number of someones. These consequences would in no way be confined to the prison, but would then leak back into our communities through those connected in every way to the legal system, both directly and by proxy. If you catch someone shoplifting, are you going to report them to teach them a lesson, or be afraid that if you do and they go to jail, they will be punished with a far more severe crime being committed against them? If someone is on trial for having committed rape, their sentence would then include rape as a part of their state-sanctioned punishment. Would jury members be even less likely to want to convict than they are now, knowing the stakes if they're wrong?

Some may say, "You broke the law, you get what you deserve." What about those falsely convicted folks? Are they just more collateral damage in this game of eye for an eye?

Perhaps the person who made the remark about prison rape was just joking and had not given any kind of consideration to the practicalities of state-sanctioned sexual violence. Rape jokes are not funny. Prison rape jokes are not funny. Jokes about "don't drop the soap" that make light of male on male sexual violence aren't funny. They normalize sexual violence, silence survivors, trivialize the effects of sexual violence, and they foster the idea that there are different classes of rapes that are not only amusing but not worth holding the rapist accountable for. None of which do anything to dissuade rape and only encourage sexual predators to continue unabated.

Can we agree, now, to stop using that as our lazy go-to response?


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