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The battle against prison rape

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For at least as long as we've had HBO, our society has been aware of an intractable truth: people get raped in prison. In fact, say people like Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg, writing in Slate, "the United States has essentially accepted violence—and particularly brutal sexual violence—as an inevitable consequence of incarcerating criminals."

In issuing new standards for combating prison rape today, President Barack Obama indicated he thinks sexual assaults behind bars can actually be stopped, or at least reduced. 

"For too long, incidents of sexual abuse against incarcerated persons have not been taken as seriously as sexual abuse outside prison walls," the intro to the new standards reads. "In popular culture, prison rape is often the subject of jokes; in public discourse, it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable—or even deserved—consequence of criminality. But sexual abuse is never a laughing matter, nor is it punishment for a crime. Rather, it is a crime, and it is no more tolerable when its victims have committed crimes of their own."

The new standards build on years of debates and revisions following the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Changes, according to Just Detention International, an organization that has being asking for new standards for years, include:

  • Requiring formerly exempt agencies, like immigration detention facilities, to develop a rape elimination plan
  • Banning routine pat-downs of female inmates
  • Auditing facilities every three years to make sure they're in compliance with the PREA

This morning, the US Department of Justice also released a report estimating that one in ten state prisoners around the country has been sexually abused at some point while behind bars. The study also found that inmates are often victimized by prison staff--any sexual contact between inmates and staff is considered non-consensual. 

Any state that doesn't comply with the new standards could face monetary sanctions. 

Find the new standards here

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