State working to protect inmates, The Associated Press, August 30, 2007.
SALEM - Not long after he arrived at the Oregon State Penitentiary, a 26-year-old inmate, a first-timer from a small town, was lured into a secluded stairway and raped by another inmate.
Nationally, about 4 percent of prison inmates anonymously reported in a survey that they had been sexually assaulted in the previous year. If the numbers hold for Oregon, it means about 800 prison rape victims a year.
But what happened next was unusual. The victim reported the rape and agreed to testify.
Prosecutors think he was simply naive and didn't know that prison snitches risk being badly beaten, raped again or worse.
The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 requires jails and prisons to take steps to reduce sexual assaults or face loss of federal funding starting next year.
Each new Oregon inmate sees a 10-minute video providing tips on how to avoid and report the attacks. Prison officers have been trained to notice signs that an inmate has been attacked.
Multnomah County asks every inmate whether they've ever been sexually assaulted while locked up. A detective investigates each allegation, even if it is years old or happened in another state.
The county has started installing cell doors with larger windows and converting some cells to single occupancy.
``It's the right thing to do,'' Multnomah County sheriff's Lt. Mary Lindstrand said of the push to protect inmates.
Lindstrand said inmates' rape victims leave jail angrier than when they arrived. ``They need counseling like any other sexual assault victim,'' Lindstrand said.
The man who reported the rape was transferred and his attacker got an additional 10 years but the victim says he lived in fear even in the new prison.
Now free, he remains tormented.
"It goes through my head every day: What could I have done differently so this would have never happened?" he told The Oregonian.
Prosecuting prison rapists isn't easy. In the past two years, Malheur County prosecutors have convicted one inmate at the 3,000-prisoner Snake River Correctional Institution. One case is pending. Ten cases fell through because victims backed out or there was insufficient evidence, District Attorney Dan Norris said.
This month, inmate Christopher Lauricella told of fighting off an attack in the Oregon State Penitentiary last year. He allowed his name to be used because he said he wanted to warn other inmates.
He said he often heard men being sexually assaulted at night but never thought he'd become a victim.
He began to worry when his 64-year-old cellmate, a convicted sex offender, made comments about Lauricella's body.
One morning, Lauricella said, he awoke to discover his cellmate groping him. Lauricella fended him off and successfully pleaded for a new cell.
He said some staff members scoffed at his complaint, and prison records show that he reported the incident but that his cellmate was not prosecuted.
Kimberly Hendricks, who coordinates the Department of Corrections' efforts to reduce sexual assaults, said some inmates falsely allege attacks to get a new cell or a transfer to another prison. But she says all reports need to be taken seriously.
Oregon's prison system has been praised by Stop Prisoner Rape, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, which says the state is taking many right steps.
Oregon prison officials evaluate each inmate for his potential to become a victim or an attacker and house them accordingly.
The 10-minute video advises inmates to avoid an effeminate posture, to always stay within sight of the staff and to avoid isolated areas.
``Never allow yourself to be put in a position of owing another inmate for anything,'' advises the video, explaining that inmates may be expected to repay with sex.
The video sometimes draws laughs and snickers, Hendricks said. ``Then they have an opportunity to ask any questions. Of course, there never are any.''