Government Prisoner Rape Study Shows Increase in Sexual Violence Reports, Raises Concerns About Correctional Authorities’ Follow Up

July 30, 2006

National human rights organization Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) welcomed the release today by the U.S. Department of Justice of its second annual statistical report on prisoner rape, while noting the limitations of data based purely on administrative records.

The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report found that the number of formal complaints of sexual violence filed in adult prisons and jails increased nearly 16%, from 5,386 in 2004, to 6,241 in 2005. More than one-half of these complaints concerned staff sexual misconduct or harassment.

“The increase in allegations reported by correctional facilities in just one year strongly suggests that prisoner rape is more prevalent than generally believed. However, even these numbers do not fully capture the scope of the concern. The prisoner rape survivors who contact SPR often do not report their assault because they do not believe that action will be taken or they are concerned that they will be retaliated against, humiliated, or further punished,” said Katherine Hall-Martinez, Co-Executive Director of SPR.

For the first time, BJS collected data on each incident that correctional officials determined was substantiated. Approximately fifteen percent of reported complaints were found to be substantiated. The majority of allegations were dismissed for lack of evidence. Among substantiated cases, BJS found that approximately half of the incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence involved the use of force, while two-thirds of substantiated reports of staff sexual misconduct were reported to be “romantic.”

“The high evidentiary bar that seems to be required for a complaint to be substantiated, and the ease with which correctional officials appear to dismiss substantiated complaints of sexual misconduct as consensual raise serious concerns about the follow-through provided. Even two years after passage of the groundbreaking federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), many correctional facilities still have a long way to go in their handling of inmate reports of sexual abuse, as well as in preventing them in the first place,” Hall-Martinez said.

“The government’s report is a useful tool for examining what is reported, and how these reported incidents are treated,” Hall-Martinez noted, “but reviewing correctional institutions’ own records and assessments of what occurred cannot, on its own, fully reveal the extent or nature of sexual violence behind bars.”

The BJS report, which is published annually, is mandated by PREA, the first-ever federal legislation to address prisoner rape. Also as required by PREA, later in 2006, BJS will initiate a self-administered survey of past and present inmates, which has the potential to provide a more accurate measurement of the prevalence of prisoner rape.

SPR is the only non-governmental organization in the country dedicated exclusively to eliminating sexual violence against men, women, and youth in detention. SPR was instrumental in securing the passage of PREA.

Click here to view the newly released U.S. Department of Justice report, "Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2005."

For more information, contact Katherine Hall-Martinez (ext. 104) or Melissa Rothstein (ext. 101) at 213-384-1400.