Number of the Day

[Trigger warning for sexual violence.]

25: The number of people that the Department of Justice estimates are sexually abused every hour in prisons and jails in the United States.

And that number is probably low. Not only does their estimate exclude incidents of sexual abuse at immigration detention facilities, which have a high rate of abuse by virtue of their particularly vulnerable population (people who are "terrified of deportation and often sharing no language with their jailers," and unlikely to know their rights or how to file a report), but it also limits what qualifies as sexual abuse; a female prisoner forced to disrobe and shower in front of a male guard does not, for example, meet their threshold for sexual abuse. Further:
In our opinion, the surveys were effectively designed to discourage false reporting, which would usually be done with the intent of creating trouble for the accused perpetrator or in hopes of being moved to a different facility. The surveys therefore simply didn't take names—of victims or perpetrators. (The surveys' authors also devised a number of ways to check for and discount false claims.) On the other hand, inmates would be likely not to report real abuse from shame, or because it was too painful, or out of fear that those guaranteeing their anonymity could not be trusted—and no survey could be designed to overcome those considerations effectively.

...[Additionally, all] the numbers we have cited count people who were abused, not instances of abuse. People raped behind bars cannot escape their attackers, though. They must live in constant fear, their trauma renewed every time they see their assailants. Between half and two thirds of those who claim sexual abuse in adult facilities say it happened more than once; previous BJS studies suggest that victims endure an average of three to five attacks each per year.
So even the Justice Department's epidemic estimate of 25 incidents of sexual abuse per hour probably fails spectacularly to adequately represent the extent of the problem of sexual violence in US prisons, most of which are committed not by fellow inmates, but "by corrections staff: agents of our government, paid with our taxes, whose job it is to keep inmates safe."

And all the other institutional biases plaguing our justice system—classism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny (not a comprehensive list)—making marginalized people disproportionately likely to be incarcerated thus also makes them disproportionately subjected to endemic sexual violence.

I encourage you to read the entire story here, on the scope of the problem, what the Justice Department is proposing in terms of prevention, and the gaps in what it's proposing versus what needs to be done.

Then go here to tell the Department of Justice to adopt strong national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention.

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