Tim Smith, Rape
Underreported at State Prisons, Experts Say,
News, July 19, 2001.
Carolina prison records show two men have been raped by fellow inmates in
the past three years, a figure national experts consider so off the mark
it is laughable and one that at least one lawmaker said raises questions
about how determined officials are about stopping violence and lawbreaking
inside the state's 31 prisons.
Based on studies of other prison systems, about 1,400 inmates likely have
been raped in that time. One study found 7 percent of inmates reported
being raped since incarceration, and 4 percent said they had been raped in
the previous three years. Some are raped repeatedly, preyed on by
predators, gang raped, beaten and passed on to others for more abuse. "I
know as a matter of utter and complete moral certainty that those (South
Carolina's figures) are bogus numbers," said Michael Horowitz, a senior
fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., who is drafting
federal legislation to reduce prison rape.
Gary Maynard, who took over as director of the state's prisons in May,
said he believes the number is higher than the numbers reported, but
finding the truth is difficult.
"There is a failure to report, even when there is a sufficient opportunity
to report," he said. "I think it's not nearly as much as the general
public would think."
State Sen. David Thomas, a Greenville Republican who until January chaired
the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee, said the rapes reported are
"artificially" low and provide more evidence the system is trying to hide
"This is a different angle on the same problem of the department having a
clear-cut self-interest in trying to whitewash the negative things that
are there and to cover them up," Thomas said, referring to last year's
revelations of sexual misconduct between guards and inmates.
"It fits into the pattern. The fact that their numbers are artificially
low just gives credence to the fact that they don't want to see the truth
and certainly don't want to act on it."
Thomas said he was not aware of the statistics until questioned by The
"I think if we had seen such numbers, the committee would have risen up
and said, 'Wait a minute. That number doesn't sound right,' " he said.
Thomas said he hopes Maynard will provide a more realistic picture of
sexual assaults "and clean up this department."
"It's a dirty secret that unfortunately is well known nationwide," Thomas
Maynard said the problem with studying inmate sexual assault is that
research often depends on whether inmates tell the truth. Some victims
deny assaults, he said, while others make false claims.
But national experts say the problem is inmates don't report it, largely
because prison systems make it difficult or dangerous to do so. Some use
rape as a management tool, said Tom Cahill, president of
Stop Prison Rape, a
organization. Prison officials have threatened troublemakers with being
placed in rapists' cells. Sometimes, he said, they allow assaults to
control violent prisoners.
A spokeswoman for South
prison agency said the system does not use sexual assault to manage
Dick Harpootlian, a
lawyer and former prosecutor, said serial murderer Pee Wee Gaskins, who
was executed in 1991 for murdering a fellow inmate with a pipe bomb,
regularly raped other prisoners.
"He would rape young, newly arrives at will," said Harpootlian, who
Bob Pitts Jr., who retired two years ago after a long career as a parole
agent in South
prisons, said he regularly heard men crying from sexual assaults.
"Unfortunately, I just didn't do anything about it," he said. "It was
something that just wasn't reported."
Likewise, Eunice McAllister, a longtime prisoner advocate in South
said, "It's ongoing all the time."
A study conducted by the
showed 21 percent of inmates are sexually assaulted. Human Rights Watch, a
New York City-based organization that monitors rights violations
worldwide, reported that a survey of guards in a southern state it did not
identify showed one out of five inmates are victims of forced sex. The
targets are most often young and slight. Sometimes, they are in prison for
nonviolent crimes, such as using drugs, passing bad checks, stealing cars.
The abuse leaves lifelong scars, always psychological, sometimes physical.
Anal intercourse is the most common way of passing AIDS, and until 1998,
inmates with HIV lived among the general prison population. Now, all
inmates are tested as they come in and the 460 males who have been
diagnosed with HIV or AIDS are segregated in their cells at Broad River
Correctional Institution in
but mix with the general population during daytime programs.
Rage is common among victims, experts say, as is depression and suicide
Most inmates say they do not report incidents out of fear of retaliation,
said Cindy Struckman-Johnson, the
professor who studied seven prisons in the
Those who do report do not fare well, she said.
prosecutors declined to prosecute two cases because no witnesses other
than the victim would testify. One trial is pending; the other was never
referred to a prosecutor, prison officials said.
The four inmates accused of sexual assault have been punished within the
prison system. One was confined to his cell for 30 days. Another lost a
year of "good time," records show.
In two cases, different inmates assaulted the same inmate during the same
week of February 2000. Both lost 240 days good time, records show. One
inmate who told investigators he brandished a homemade knife as he raped
another prisoner lost 480 days of good time, records show.
Circuit Judge Joe Watson, a former prosecutor for
and Pickens counties, said he tried one or two cases of inmate sexual
assault during his 12 years in office.
He said he believes more rapes happen in prison than the numbers reported
and that they are low because inmates don't report because they think not
much can be done.
Joann Morton, a criminal justice professor at the
and a state prison administrator from 1976 until 1988, said inmates fear
the consequences of reporting, and prison officials don't want to hear
"Prison administrators, generally, don't want to admit cases of homosexual
rape because that generally means your prison is not that well run," she
Bob Demond, a national consultant who has written and studied the issue
for two decades, said he believes prison systems trade a greater evil for
a lesser evil. Once an inmate has been raped, he is a target, not only at
the prison he's in but any he may be sent to.
Cahill and other experts believe prison rape continues because the public
"There still is an underlying belief that if you're in prison and you
report being sexually assaulted that you somehow caused this to happen to
you," Demond said. "It's almost like what happened to women 25 years ago."