Violence and Sexual Assault in Prison

Violence is an unfortunate and common part of prison life, especially at the higher security levels within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. So is sexual assault, though to a lesser degree. Inmates at camp (minimum security) and low security levels usually have less to worry about in either regard. These issues are a more likely reality for those at medium and high security federal prisons.

Violence in prison is usually in the form of intimidation, although physical violence is also common. This is the primary mechanism that different groups in prison use to assert their dominance and control. Assuming a prisoner is not incarcerated for a sex-related offense and is not an informant, intimidation is likely to be the only violence that they will experience. This usually occurs in the first few months of their stay, until they fit into a group, which provides a certain amount of protection from others.

For those convicted of sex-related offenses such as child pornography offenses, and for informants, the road can be much harder. At the lower security levels they will simply be ostracized, unless they are incarcerated at a Sex Offender Management Program facility. At the higher security levels, their safety might be in jeopardy. For those likely to be targeted who arrive at a prison where they are not welcome, they will be informed in not-very-kind terms by fellow prisoners. This will most likely occur before violence is introduced. If a targeted prisoner fails to heed the warning, they might very well be beaten or stomped. In these instances, they will be removed from general population and placed in the hole for protective custody.

Sexual assault in prison is a hot-button issue. Vulnerable populations such as LGBT prisoners, sex offenders and younger prisoners tend to face an increased risk of being assaulted. While such prisoners will have to contend with verbal sexual jabs and solicitations, forcible rape is actually an unusual occurrence. It does happen each year across prison systems such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but despite what you might see on TV it is not a regular occurrence. Severe consequences imposed by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) have had an impact on prison rape statistics.

If a prisoner engages in sexually promiscuous activities, they commonly become a target for unwanted sexual attention. The key to avoiding violence and sexual assault in prison is for prisoners to mind their own business, engage in respectable conduct, and mesh well within the prison culture and groups. These things help, but won’t guarantee safety.

When assaulted, it is important for the prisoner to throw everything that they have into protecting themselves to dissuade others from following suit. This means if you’re being assaulted, you fight hard. Hurting an offender as swiftly and brutally as possible is the right answer in this situation. Enacting swift self-defense protects you from the assailant and gives others considering you as a target a reason to think twice. The truth is that injuries sustained from fights only hurt so much, but the constant fear of being hurt is much more crippling. By harnessing this fear, even smaller prisoners who are not usually intimidating can become forces to be reckoned with, even if they never again have to throw another punch.

Some information and tips to remember on this topic:

At the camp (minimum security) and low security levels, violence and sexual assault are very rare. Prisoners are concentrating on good behavior and being released. At the medium security and, especially, the high security levels where many inmates feel they have nothing to lose, violence is very prevalent, and sexual assault happens more often, though it is still not exactly commonplace.

If you are an informant or sex offender and are sent to a rough medium or high-security federal prison, there are measures to take to avoid being targeted. You can refuse to “walk the yard” by refusing to leave the Special Housing Unit upon first arrival at the institution. This is where most new arrivals are held prior to being released into the general population. While this will result in you being placed in protective custody, it will protect you from being maimed until Federal Bureau of Prisons officials transfer you to an easier yard.

If you are being threatened by someone, don’t act weak. Dispel tension by talking. A simple “go to hell,” and walking away is better than saying “I’m not going to fight you.” It is essential to convey that when push comes to shove, you will act and you can handle a fight if required.

If someone punches you or puts their hands on you, react swiftly. It is a rule I strictly followed in prison. Words are only words, but once someone touched me, all bets were off. If someone harms you, you need to harm them. Traditional society would disagree with this notion, but in prison you are your only protector. The guards will not help you, and neither will your fellow prisoners.

It’s better to fight and lose or be caught fighting than to tell guards that someone hit or threatened you. This will brand you as a rat. The only time you should consider going to the guards is if you fear that your life is in danger, and you are willing to be locked in the hole and transferred elsewhere. Even then, you should not give them any names. Just state you fear for your life.

If someone is intimidating you sexually or trying to coax you to engage in sex, find a slick retort designed to embarrass them and make them go away. A transgender friend of mine while in prison used to tell people, “I’ll f*&k you, but it’s going to hurt.” No one expected this to come out of my friend’s mouth and it usually shamed people into leaving her alone. But there is also the risk of inciting violence by making such comments. The best rule of thumb should be to use words to dispel potential trouble, to ignore what you can, and to avoid putting yourself in positions where such comments are made.

If you are sexually assaulted, you have the right to file a PREA complaint through the TRULINCS Inmate-to-Staff Messaging function, by telling any staff member, or by writing a letter to the Department of Justice. This will result in a swift and severe response from prison officials and the DOJ official assigned to investigate the case.  In most cases, I’m very much against telling on fellow prisoners, but in the case of sexual assault, I go the other way. I think that if someone is ever raped in prison that they should immediately file a report. This is required to protect the victim and get them the help that they need, and to protect others from the perpetrator.

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