Te-Ping Chen, Would You Joke About This Woman's Rape?, Criminaljustice.change.org blog, January 22, 2010

If you knew a young boy down the street had been raped, would you joke about it? If you knew your friend's sister was being raped, would you help her?

What if you made both of those people wear prison jumpsuits -- what about then?

That's what a new campaign from JUST DETENTION International (JDI) wants to know. Long a cultural staple, prison rape jokes -- never funny to begin with -- start to look even more like an appalling vestige of the past when confronted with the real stats. Try this one on for size: the Justice Department's January report says that over 12% of kids in juvenile prisons are sexually abused while in custody. In some facilities, like Maryland's Backbone Mountain Youth Center, that figure vaults as high as 36%.

Human Rights Watch wrote a searing report on the subject of male rape in prison a number of years back, which is well worth a re-visit. Here's one man's account, excerpted below:

"When I first came to prison, I had no idea what to expect. Certainly none of this. I'm a tall white male, who unfortunately has a small amount of feminine characteristics. And very shy. These characteristics have got me raped so many times I have no more feelings physically. I have been raped by up to 5 black men and two white men at a time. I've had knifes at my head and throat..."

This is a man who was in prison for a D.U.I. offense (his third). HRW has more, including the case of Rodney Hulin, whose 17-year-old son hanged himself after being sodomized and repeatedly abused by other inmates, and his requests for protective custody denied.

By all means, civil liberties and human rights advocates should continue to keep the pressure up on Guantanamo, and in calling the White House out on its limp-noodle stance on investigating past torture and abuse. But it's important not to forget, either, that greatest number of mass atrocities visited on prisoners by the American justice system happen right here in this country, on our soil.

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