by Dr Boyce Watkins
We’ve heard a lot about rape culture on college campuses and seen quite a few highly determined domestic violence and sexual assault advocates fighting on behalf of those who are affected. But it’s hard not to conclude that much of their dismay toward the culture of rape and violence possesses a degree of gender bias that should concern us all.
One thing that is consistently off the radar screen is the issue of prison rape. Prison rape is arguably the scariest kind of rape there is because it’s often among the most brutal and traumatizing experiences one can imagine. Someone very close to me went to prison at a very early age, and after enduring years of prison abuse, he was mentally disturbed for the remainder of his years.
So, here are a few things to consider when thinking about the quiet atrocity of prison rape, why feminists tend to ignore it and why it might be the worst kind of rape there is:
1) It’s typically ignored by sexual assault advocates because most of the victims are black males. Many feminists, unfortunately, have been trained to believe that black men are enemies of the state. Millions of Americans see us as violent neanderthals with no respect for women. This imagery is not detached from what white women have thought about us for the last 400 years. That’s why it was so easy for a black man to be lynched for even looking at a white woman too hard.
2) You can’t report prison rape to the police, because the authorities tend to ignore you. In some cases, the perpetrator of prison rape is actually one of the guards. At the very least, because the people in prison (a disproportionate number of whom are black) are part of our forgotten society, many victims are unable to receive even the most basic of human rights and protection.
3) You often can’t avoid your attacker, and might have to face him every single day for the next 20 years. In prison, the attacker never goes away. You see him every single day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The nightmare keeps repeating itself. That’s far worse than a one time incident where you can avoid the person who assaulted you.
4) It usually happens over and over again. If authorities refuse to intervene and no one protects you, victims are often forced to endure numerous rapes, over and over again, over a very long period of time. Again, this isn’t the same as being victimized once or having your attacker taken to justice.
5) You have few sympathizers, there is typically no punishment and the victims usually don’t even get therapy. Many former inmates live life as a shadow of themselves, enduring lifetime penalties for the horrors they’ve experienced in prison. One of many thousands of examples is the case of Kirk Odom, who was infected with HIV after being repeatedly raped in prison over 20 years, serving time for a crime he did not commit. So, while it is critically important that we are sensitive to other forms of sexual assault, it’s hypocritical to expect such sensitivity when the most egregious cases of assault are being swept under the rug. If Kirk Odom were a white woman, his case would be on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and every other network known to man.
Sexual assault is a horrible crime, we know this. But for some reason, the horrors of the crime are not as readily acknowledged when the victim happens to NOT be a white woman. A recent study even showed that whites believe that black people feel less pain than they do, meaning that we can endure the same tragedy as a white person and white Americans think it’s no big deal.
In the social/incarceration hierarchy, white women lie at the top of the pile. Judges are most lenient on them, and they are often protected. Black males fester at the bottom: Studies show that we receive far longer sentences than white females, even when we commit the same crimes. This disparate treatment in the criminal justice system translates into equally disparate reactions to situations in which someone has done us harm.
The bottom line is that if you’re not trying to stop prison rape, then you’re probably not serious about rape. Black men are the most incarcerated group of people on the entire planet. If white women were going to prison as much as black men and being assaulted at the same rates, this “non-existent” issue would be translated into a national crisis.
Dr Boyce Watkins is the author of the book, “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” To find out more, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com.