Scott Medlock, Prison sexual assault high in Texas, Austin American-Statesman, April 13, 2010
Texas has won yet another unfortunate distinction: the state with the most prisoners who have been sexually assaulted and raped.
The numbers are staggering, according to a new study by prison watchdog group Just Detention International: Half of the prisons with the most reported incidents of rape are in Texas.
JDI receives 30 letters a week from inmates around the country reporting sexual assault, with 25 percent of those letters coming from Texas. In a single year, the rate of sexual assault among inmates at these five Texas prisons was between 9.3 percent and 15.7 percent. The national average was only 4.5 percent. This is a horrific statistic.
Widespread sexual violence and rape in Texas prisons is a “dirty little secret,” but one that hurts thousands of people. It is just as awful that we, as a society, are not concerned about this problem. No human being should be subjected to sexual assault and rape.
Allowing prison rape to become so prevalent blatantly disregards the Constitution and the rule of law. Prison rape causes physical harm, psychological injury, depression, humiliation and trauma.
We need to remember one-third of Texas prisoners are nonviolent offenders, serving time for drug or property offenses, not violent crimes.
More than 90 percent of prisoners are eventually released into the “free world.” Exposing these people to sexual violence on the “inside” will become a public safety issue when they come back to the “outside.” Victims of sexual violence are far more likely to later become perpetrators.
Even worse, sexual assault and rape in Texas prisons isn’t limited to inmate-on-inmate violence. According to JDI, Texas also has the greatest rate of sexual assault and rape of inmates by guards, a felony that rarely results in prison staff being punished.
Even when prisoners report being raped, police are not always receptive because they are in prison for something else. When victims do report sexual assaults, authorities often leave them in the dark about the progress of their cases, if any. Inmates face an uphill battle in receiving attention to sexual violence perpetuated by a prison system that is callous toward this horrible situation.
A decent and humane society cannot tolerate this kind of inhumane treatment. As is said often, a society’s values are reflected in its jail and prison system.
The ramifications of prison rape are broader than human rights. The taxpayers ultimately pay the financial costs of lawsuits. With cases awarding victims substantial damages for physical injury and mental trauma, sexual violence costs not only the victims, but also the taxpayers.
Of course, these awards rarely make rape victims “whole.” Former TCRP clients who were raped in prison continue to experience psychological trauma despite “winning” their cases, including one young man who took his own life years after leaving prison.
JDI’s findings echo complaints just a few years ago about sexual assault in our juvenile corrections facilities. The Texas Youth Commission was recently rocked by sexual abuse scandals involving staff members raping children. To Texas’ credit, many TYC reforms were enacted to protect the children in state custody.
Now Texas needs to pay similar attention to adult prisons.
This article was also featured in the San Antonio Express-News and the San Angelo Standard Times