Sexual Slavery

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Here’s a charming story on the sexual slavery rampant in prisons, courtesy of the New York Times editorial page:

When Congress issued the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, that should have put corrections officials on notice. The measure requires the Justice Department to study the endemic problem of sexual assault behind bars and develop a strategy for coping with it. But prison officials have continued to play down this problem. The costs of denial are on vivid display this month in a federal courtroom in Texas, where a former inmate has told jurors how corrections officers ignored his written pleas for help, and even laughed at him, while he was repeatedly raped and sold into sexual slavery by prisoners who viewed him as “property.”

The lawsuit was brought by Roderick Johnson, a former Navy seaman who is openly gay and who landed in prison for violating the conditions of his probation. He was quickly pounced upon and told that he would have to submit to sex or be killed. Mr. Johnson filed several written pleas to prison officials, asking them to put him in a secure section of the prison. He says prison officers mocked him, accusing him of wanting to be raped.

According to court documents, vulnerable inmates were told to either fight it out with rapists or find boyfriends who would protect them in return for sex. Mr. Johnson says gang members were free to rape him, sometimes by paying a few dollars to the prisoner who in effect “owned” him. Speaking of prison officials, a witness said, “They seen what was happening but they pretended they didn’t.”

Hilarious! Luckily prisons aren’t an incubator for HIV or hepatitis or anything of that sort; all just fun and games in here. It would be naïve, of course, to pretend that any of this is new; for a sense of the sheer prevalence of prison rape, the testimonies in this 2001 Human Rights Watch report pretty much cover the basics. And we’ve known for ages that the sort of naked authoritarianism and power handed, for instance, to prison guards will always bring out the sadistic side of people. But the sexual character of all of this never fails to shock. In light of all the naked human pyramids and menstrual blood and genital squeezing and “fuck a PUC” routines to which detainees in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have found themselves subject, stories about guards sexually abusing prisoners have a sick resonance. I don’t know what’s wrong with this country, but I suspect Rush Limbaugh of all people put his finger on it when he said: “I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” Yes, well, then we need more of that, don’t we?


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