Rape as Punishment
By Adam Starchild, 1996

Rape incidents in prison are so much taken for granted by prisoners and the general public alike that few have considered the historical or sociological aspects of the practice.

It has often been said that prison staff tacitly tolerate prison rapes as a form of control. Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, they are simply following a long historical tradition of rape as punishment.

In the Arab countries, for centuries, an intruding man caught in the harem was turned over to the slaves to be used for their sexual pleasure. Rape of captive soldiers in war was common amongst Arabs, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The tradition apparently continues, with a recent report of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva documenting the rape of numerous teenage Palestinian boys in Israeli military detention centers, as part of both punishment and interrogation routines.

In England, as well as in the early American years, prisoners left in the stocks or pillory overnight were often raped. The punishment was virtually an invitation to rape, with the prisoner firmly anchored and unable to turn his head to see who was behind him.

The general knowledge of such assaults occurring would suggest that judges were just as aware that they were imposing rape as punishment as were Arab harem keepers who more directly imposed rape as punishment.

In the modern era, prison administrators have often been accused of tolerating, and sometimes deliberately creating, rape situations. In addition to the punishment aspect, prison staff have better control of the population by tacitly consenting to rapes. On the one hand, there is the threat of being placed in a rape vulnerable position, and on the other hand it is a way of keeping the more aggressive prisoners calm and happy, since if they weren't raping they might be rioting. Even in prisons where rapes are rare or nonexistent, there is the constant threat of being transferred to a prison where rape is common--a threat which is sometimes made outright by staff.

The practice is international. One Middle Eastern country having large numbers of Americans arrested on drug charges, officially punishes disciplinary infractions within the prison by chaining one ankle to the bed for 24 hours. The official explanation is that for that day he is being punished by being restricted to bed and is not able to wander around using the various recreational facilities and television. The true situation is that by being chained to the bed, the real punishment is that the prisoner is unable to defend himself and is available all day to any of his 150 dormitory mates who might want to rape him, and that almost all would want to. That is why the punishment is only for one day.

In America, judges frequently sentence a young first offender to a very short prison term, such as 30 to 90 days, followed by five or more years of probation. One must wonder when this is done if the judge hasn't sent to criminal to prison just long enough to ensure that he is raped before release. Although there is no direct link between these sentences and rape as punishment, one must assume that most judges are aware of the general rape situation in American prisons, and the almost certainty that such a prisoner will be raped. It may be less direct than an overnight sentence to the stocks or pillory, but the unspoken sentence of rape is still there.

Our society is carrying on the long historical tradition of rape as punishment--but is forgetting the dangers that these sexually abused young men create when they are released back into society. Unfortunately, so few are willing to come out and admit to having been raped that they only help the trend to continue.

Copyright 1991, 1996 Adam Starchild

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For more on this subject, visit the Web site of Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc.


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