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Removing the cloak of silence on male sexual violence in Australian prisons

July 20, 2012

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In order to effectively and uniformly address the issue of prison rape on a national scale, the United

States federal government introduced the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003 – an Act introduced by former President George W. Bush in 2003, prompted by decades of research and heavy lobbying led by Democrat senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Scott and Republican senators Frank Wolf and Jeff Sessions

Earlier this year, on 17 May 2012, national standards addressing the detection, prevention and elimination of prison rape in US prisons were implemented as required by the PREA. The standards set out regulations to be observed by all state and federal correctional institutions.

The national standards address issues of reporting, accurate data collection, the training of prison staff with regard to identifying and addressing sexual violence and inmate education of grievance procedures and reporting incidents.

Studies exploring the occurrence of rape within American prisons have reached varying conclusions on the frequency of inmate participation and victimisation, yet all findings have revealed some degree of occurrence.

Such is the case in Australia, where academics have produced significant studies on prisoner sexual violence, providing preliminary insight into the frequency of rape, the characteristics of both victims and perpetrators, the process of victimisation and the environmental and institutional enablers of the phenomenon.

The most significant of the existing local literature in an Australian context is the work of David Heilpern who conducted a landmark multi-method study examining the occurrence of sexual violence in New South Wales prisons. Within the study, 77 inmates revealed sexual victimisation, 22 divulged incidents occurring weekly, four admitted to experiencing sexual violence on a daily basis and through extrapolating the figures, Heilpern estimated that the annual number of sexual assaults victimising prisoners aged 18 to 25 years in New South Wales reaches 23,888.

Brian Steels and Dot Goulding conducted a similarly noteworthy study in 2009 on ex-prisoners in Western Australia, exposing comparable figures that revealed 21 of the 150 participants interviewed had been sexually assaulted whilst serving time in Western Australian prisons.

Unfortunately, despite current research, a gap exists within the literature produced by academics and government researchers when assessing the causes, rates and consequences of sexual victimisation within prisons.

The lobbying of victims, academics and prisoner interest groups with the support of politicians in the US resulted in important political change. With encouragement from established Australian prisoner support and prisoner reform groups, victims can act as conduits of information to educate the community and local governments about prison sexual violence. It does appear that without further backing from those interested in prisoner welfare, the public will remain uneducated and unaware of the seriousness of prison sexual violence.


PREA National Standards, final rule

Just Detention International

David Heilpern – Sexual Assault of Prisoners: Reflections

Steels and Goulding – Predator or Prey? An Exploration of the Impact and Incidence of Sexual Assault in West Australian Prisons

Kate Baxter, post-graduate student, Criminal Justice, Monash University Gippsland Campus

From → Prisons

One Comment
  1. having this kind of case is very serious one and its a lifetime in prison..i always ask myself why is it that they would do that such thing that even the father rape their own daughter…they don’t give respect the commandment that has made..

    online criminal justice degree

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