Charlie Frago, Study finds lower rate of inmate sex violence, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 2, 2005.

Fewer inmates in Arkansas prisons, jails and youth detention centers are victims of sexual violence than their counterparts across the nation, according to a federal study, although officials and prison advocates cautioned against comparing states because reporting standards are still being developed.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study released Sunday showed that Arkansas state and federal prisons had just two substantiated occurrences of sexual violence in 2004 out of 28 allegations.

Nationally, 658 occurrences were confirmed out of 3,456 reports of sexual violence in state and federal prisons. Researchers split the allegations into four categories ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Dina Tyler said educating inmates and separating sexual predators from the general population have been the key to the state's low numbers. "It's a hot topic right now," Tyler said of sexual violence in prisons. "But long before [new federal laws on prison sexual assaults] existed, we were working on this."

In June, correction officials said 34 sexual assault cases had been referred to the Arkansas State Police for investigation over the past five years and only three had sufficient evidence to be prosecuted.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, called for the Bureau of Justice Statistics study, the first of its kind. Aside from prisons, the report examined jails and youth de- tention centers.

Correctional authorities in prisons, jails and youth detention centers across the nation reported an estimated 8,210 allegations, with 2,090 being confirmed. That averages out to 3.2 allegations and less than one confirmation per 1,000 inmates among the nation's approximately 2.1 million prisoners.

The study also said occurrences of sexual violence were nearly 10 times higher in youth detention centers than in state prisons.

Allen Beck, one of the report's authors, said the much higher rate in juvenile facilities may be attributable to better reporting methods and more stringent state laws regarding under age sexual relations.

Beck said it would be "unwise" to compare rates of sexual violence in Arkansas correctional facilities to national averages because the number of reported occurrences was so low, making the rates "unstable."

The bureau also cautioned against using the report to rank systems or facilities because higher or lower counts might reflect differences in reporting capacities and procedures rather than differences in sexual violence.

In 2004, only one confirmed case of sexual violence occurred in the state's jails - in Craighead County. Three confirmed occurrences were in the state's youth detention centers.

The Pulaski County jail didn't have any recorded occurrences, and the Alexander Youth Services Center in Saline County reported two occurrences between youths.

Lovisa Stannow, acting executive director for Stop Prisoner Rape, a Los Angelesbased prison advocacy group, said the report "was an important first step, but it doesn't tell the whole story." "It doesn't tell us the true prevalence of prisoner rape. We'll get higher numbers if we talk directly to inmates."

The study was based on formal complaints, which inmates are often reluctant to file because they fear retaliation, feel humiliated or don't think anyone will believe them, she said.

The bureau plans to expand its data collection next year when it sends out questionnaires to inmates, Beck said.

Previously, researchers estimated that as many as 13 percent of inmates had been victims of sexual violence during their incarceration. The report's lower numbers reflect more rigorous research, Beck said. "The past research was very weak," Beck said. "That's what our work is about - to develop methods to more reliably collect data."

The Bureau of Justice Statistics will repeat the study next year.