News Analysis: Report on Forced Sex in Prison
The U.S. Department of Justice has released its report, "Sexual Victimization in Prisons, and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12: National Inmate Survey, 2011-12." As this survey collected data for the sexual orientation of the victim, differences in risk between lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) inmates and heterosexual inmates became visible: LGB inmates are much more likely to be victims than are straight inmates. Sexual victimization or forced sex ranges from nonconsensual touching to gang rape. Fortunately most inmates both straight and LGB reported no sexual victimization. Unfortunately, the survey did not collect data for the victimization of transgender individuals.
This report distinguished forced sex by inmates from forced sex by staff. The U.S. legal system defines all sexual contact between staff and inmates as victimizing. The report defined only nonconsensual sexual behavior among inmates as forced.
Males and females reported differences in forced sex by other inmates. Gay/bi male inmates were about 12 times more likely to report forced sex by other inmates than were straight male inmates. Lesbian/bi women were 2.6 times more likely to report forced sex by another inmate than were straight women.
While both gay/bi men and lesbian/bi women reported higher rates of forced sex by staff than did straight inmates, the differences between LGB males and females were much less sharp. Gay/bi male inmates were 3 times more likely to be sexually forced by staff than were straight male inmates, and lesbian/bi women were 2.1 times more likely than straight female inmates to be forced by staff. Only straight males reported greater forced sex by staff than by other inmates.
Age had minimal affects on LGB sexual victimization. LGB inmates between the ages of 18 and 24 were 1.3 times more likely to report forced sex by other inmates than were LGB inmates 45 and older. Those LGB inmates 45 and older, however, were 6.8 times more likely to report forced sex by other inmates than were straight inmates between 18 and 24. Victimization rates by staff differed less, but showed a similar pattern of greater differences by sexual orientation than by age range.
While this report has many excellent features, it does have some serious limitations. First, this report failed to collect any transgender data, despite obvious high vulnerability. As a result an unknown portion of the LGB victims actually are transgender victims. Second, data in this report probably undercounts forced sex; people notoriously under-report rape. Third, surveys rely on self-reporting. While self-reporting provides an excellent source of subjective perception of "reality" problem solving craves "objective" facts. Objective measures could have strengthened this report. For example, according to this survey, 3,743 LGB inmates responded that they were injured during forced sex by another inmate. Records of these injuries should exist and could corroborate the findings in this report.