Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sexual Assault and Prisons

A new very controversial study purports to show that sexual assault in prison is a much rarer occurrence than is popularly understood. There are a lot of people crying foul, however. The Justice Department, which funded the study, has not even endorsed the study, for a lack of data turned over to them by Mark Fleisher, the anthropologist who conducted the study. From the article:
"To take the position that it's not a problem and prisons are safe places is asinine," said Reggie B. Walton, a federal judge and chairman of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, set up under a 2003 federal law.

He said Fleisher's conclusions are "totally inconsistent" with what he has learned during 30 years in the criminal justice system.

Cindy Struckman-Johnson, professor of psychology at the University of South Dakota and one of nine commission members, said Fleisher's 155-page study is not in scientific form.

She said there is no literature review, no raw data and no in-depth explanation of his subjects or research methods.

There are a few other statements made by Fleischer that seemed like big red flags to me.

In his report, he suggested that what outsiders see as rape is regarded differently by inmates.

and from another article:

He said inmates who cry rape are usually lying and looking for a transfer, money or publicity.

''Inmates say it may happen, but the conditions under which it happens are rare,'' Fleisher said. ''It is unlikely all the stars are going to align properly for this to happen, particularly in prisons today. You're going to get caught.''

This all seems a little too familiar to me. Given the way prison rape is mocked in popular culture, and the piss-poor way in which rape victims are treated even if they are not violent criminals, I have a feeling that this study is at the eve of its debunking. Getting the public at large to actually pay attention to the problem, unfortunately, still seems like it may be a long way away.
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