ESSENTIAL FACTS AND STATS ON BRITISH PRISONS: PART 2 – SEXUAL ABUSEPosted: January 7, 2015
The problem of sexual abuse in prison is often hidden and under-reported, but there is no longer an excuse for ignorance as there is information available
It is a challenge to report on the essential facts and stats on sexual abuse in British prisons because there are not many essential facts and stats available. However, there has been some valuable information added to the debate recently.
The commission’s report on Coercive Sex in Prison starts by acknowledging that “there has been minimal research on sexual abuse in prison and the nature and extent of the problem is not known.” But we do have some numbers.
Sexual assault incidents increased almost 50 per cent from 2012 to 2013 according to the commission. Four-fifths of incidents were prisoner-on-prisoner as can be seen in the table below.
SEXUAL ASSAULT INCIDENTS BY ASSAILANT/VICTIM TYPE, ENGLAND AND WALES
HERE IS WHAT ELSE WE KNOW…
The following information applies to prisons in England and Wales:
- The number of recorded sexual assaults in prison rose in 2013 and is now at the highest recorded level since 2005 according to Ministry of Justice data.
- One per cent of prisoners reported being sexually abused in prison according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) data. This means that 850 to 1650 prisoners could be victims of sexual assault while inside.
- One per cent of prisoners had been raped and 5.3 per cent were victims of coerced sex according to research carried out 10 years ago in England and Wales based on interviews with 408 former prisoners. It also found that perpetrators were predominantly prisoners rather than staff and approximately 50 per cent of incidents involved more than one perpetrator.
- Gay and transgender prisoners are at higher risk of sexual assault than heterosexual prisoners.
Unfortunately, Justice Minister Chris Grayling did not allow his department to cooperate with the Howard League’s study, so there is little more data to go on.
So we turn to the US, which is broadly comparable and has a lot more research available on the subject.
SEXUAL ABUSE IN U.S. PRISONS
In the United States, the problem of sexual violence in prison is much more widely recognised. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed with bipartisan support in 2003. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) also does an annual survey.
Data from the most recent survey in 2013 show that 2 per cent of prisoners in the US had been the victim of a non-consensual sex act and 4 per cent had been sexually victimised.
A separate BJS report found that 52 per cent of sexual victimisation incidents in 2011 involved only inmates, while 48 per cent involved staff with inmates.
It also found that 44 per cent of victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimisation experienced physical force or threat of force; 12 per cent had been talked into it; and five per cent had been bribed, blackmailed, or given drugs or alcohol to engage in the sexual activity.
Between 2009 and 2011, women represented about 7 per cent of all US state and federal prison inmates, but accounted for 22 per cent of inmate-on-inmate victims and 33 per cent of staff-on-inmate victims.
ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL VICTIMISATION IN U.S. PRISONS (‘000)
Allegations of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse rose sharply from 2009-11. Although many allegations are made, most are later found by authorities to be “unsubstantiated” or “unfounded” – only a minority are substantiated.
Between 2009-11, six per cent of allegations of staff sexual harassment and 15 per cent of staff sexual misconduct were substantiated.
This is compared with nine per cent of allegations of inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual acts and 16 per cent of the allegations of inmate-on-inmate abusive sexual contacts being substantiated.
We have some idea of the extent of sexual abuse in British prisons, but much more research is needed. Politicians in the UK should follow the example of their American peers and make more data available. Or at the very least, order their departments to cooperate with those trying to gather the data.