Surviving prison rape

By Caro Rolando, New Internationalist
May 2012

Scenes of inmates strategically dropping bars of soap in public showers are not a rarity in low-budget Hollywood comedies. In fact, this staged portrayal of sexual violence is often expected to provoke giggles amongst audiences. But prison rape is no joke. According to Just Detention International (JDI) over 200,000 persons in US detention centres are sexually abused each year. JDI is a Los Angeles-based, non-profit organization that advocates for the sexual safety of prisoners in America and abroad.

The group's members, prison rape survivors and their allies, use various methods to get their message across. For example, The Resource Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse Behind Bars provides a state-by-state guide to psychological and legal counseling services for survivors or their loved ones. The guide is often sent to those still in prison and includes self-help materials and a letter of hope written by a fellow survivor.

Jan Lastocy is one of those. Raped by her supervisor over the course of several months while at a correctional facility in Michigan, Lastocy never reported the crime. She was afraid prison officials would believe her supervisor over her. It was not until another inmate reported the same crime that Lastocy was able to stand up to the perpetrator, take him to court and eventually see him convicted.

But not all survivors of prison rape are as successful in their search for justice. Which is why Lastocy is part of JDI's Survivor Speakers List--a group of survivors who spread awareness by sharing their stories with journalists, community groups and politicians.

"I actually semi-stalk my Congresspeople," says Lastocy, who has shared her story at a Congressional briefing and is unwaveringly committed to ending sexual violence against prisoners. "I will be here until I die or until it stops," she says.

Originally printed in the New Internationalist, NI 452 May 2012 edition.