Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Prison rape

Cruel and unusual torture


One of the most lawless places in America is on the wrong side of a prison door. Just ask an ex-con.

"The biggest and baddest guy in prison had the showers every afternoon from 1 to 2. When you'd see a towel hanging over the top, you knew not to go into the showers,'' said Cliff Stubbers, a former Ohio inmate. "You knew Steve was in there.''

Steve was not alone.

Men get raped in prison more often than women get raped outside prisons, according to Stop Prison Rape, a non-profit group ( . The group claims 240,000 male inmates are raped each year compared to 140,000 women on the outside.

An open secret

"It's part of prison life,'' said Mr. Stubbers, a former Indian Hill resident who served eight years for a sex crime he insists he did not commit. "It's the young ones, especially. Every time I see a young boy go to prison, I shake my head.''

Prosecutors, judges and cops know about the "special'' punishment child molesters get in prison. Prison officials know about it, too, but most don't keep records. Ohio Prisons spokeswoman Andrea Dean said records show 11 sexual assaults in 2000, three last year and five this year. But she says underreporting is "very probable, because inmates have a fear of retaliation.''

Studies cited by SPR estimate that 20 percent of men and 27 percent of women in prison are raped. Juveniles are five times more likely to be assaulted. Prisoners are 10 times more likely to spread AIDS, making rape a tacked-on death sentence for some victims. Some "punks'' become slaves for years to avoid beatings or death. Then they are set free like walking grenades, ready to explode with shrapnel rage.

And we joke about it. Young men wear the low-riding prison jeans and think they are "cool.'' TV ads and movies wink and elbow us in the ribs about what happens in prison.

Charles Colson, founder of Prison Ministries Fellowship, has visited 600 prisons in 25 years since he served time for Watergate crimes. He says he has seen "utter devastation created by rape in prison.''

`No big deal'

He says, "We may be tempted, in the privacy of our hearts, to whisper, `They deserve it.' But no matter what crime somebody had committed, no part of his sentence should include being sexually assaulted, exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS or hepatitis C, or degraded.''

By any definition, prison rape equals cruel and unusual punishment.

A bill in the U.S. House and the Senate would set up a national commission to collect statistics and find ways to prosecute and prevent prison rape.

During testimony in Congress, Linda Bruntmyer told about her son Rodney Hulkin - a little guy, sent to prison at age 16 for vandalism. He was repeatedly raped and beaten. Before he hanged himself, his mother asked the warden for help. She says she was told, "This happens to everybody, learn to deal with it. It's no big deal.''

It is a big deal. It shouldn't happen to anyone. But it is time to deal with it.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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