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Men Outnumber Women Among American Rape Victims

Christopher Glazer takes to N+1 magazine to argue that we should Raise the Crime Rate.

Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con. Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence.

Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie—but as the single most shameful lie in American life.

From 1980 to 2007, the number of prisoners held in the United States quadrupled to 2.3 million, with an additional 5 million on probation or parole.


Victims in juvenile facilities, or facilities for women, have an even tougher time: usually it’s the guards, rather than the inmates, who coerce them into sex. The guards tell their victims that no one will believe them, and that complaining will only make things worse. This is sound advice: even on the rare occasions when juvenile complaints are taken seriously and allegations are substantiated, only half of confirmed abusers are referred for prosecution, only a quarter are arrested, and only 3 percent end up getting charged with a crime.

In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

America’s prison system is a moral catastrophe. The eerie sense of security that prevails on the streets of lower Manhattan obscures, and depends upon, a system of state-sponsored suffering as vicious and widespread as any in human history. Dismantling the system of American gulags, and holding accountable those responsible for their operation, presents the most urgent humanitarian imperative of our time.

Progressives lament the growth of private prisons (prisons for profit). But it’s sadism, not avarice, that fuels the country’s prison crisis. Prisoners are not the victims of poor planning (as other progressive reformers have argued)—they are the victims of an ideological system that dehumanizes an entire class of human being and permits nearly infinite violence against it. As much as a physical space, prisons denote an ethical space, or, more precisely, a space where ordinary ethics are suspended. Bunk beds, in and of themselves, are not cruel and unusual. University dorms have bunk beds, too. What matters is what happens in those beds. In the dorm room, sex, typically consensual. In prisons, also sex, but often violent rape. The prisons are “overcrowded,” we are told (and, in fact, courts have ruled). “Overcrowding” is a euphemism for an authoritarian nightmare.

While the attempt to count the number of rapes in America’s prisons is new, the problem is not. Alas, it’s one quite unlikely to go away because the overwhelming majority of Americans are perfectly happy to shift the risk of violent crime off our streets and out of our neighborhoods and into walled communities where people regarded as little more than vicious animals are housed. That they face a good chance of being raped while there is variously seen as fodder for jokes, the wicked getting their just desserts, or collateral damage. It’s virtually inconceivable that political will to do something about the problem will coalesce any time soon.

via Jimmy Gerrond

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway and the managing editor of the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer, Desert Storm vet, and college professor with a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    The sentence for selling weed in America is rape.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 166 Thumb down 5

  2. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Yup. And, most likely, a life of violent crime once on the outside.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 68 Thumb down 11

  3. Accipiter says:

    Prisons do nothing more than punish and train people to be criminals. Often (as the previous comments suggest as well), someone enters prison because of a non-violent ‘crime’, and then exits as a true criminal. There is no rehabilitation going on in prisons. The term ‘correction facility’ is a joke. There’s no ‘correction’ going on in prison, only torture.

    For-profit prisons are even worse, as the incentive to maximize profits results in taking away basic necessities for prisoners and cutting down on guards. It also breeds corruption by giving slimy judges the incentive to send people away who normally would not have received prison. Look up some of the horror stories about Mark Ciavarella Jr., a Pennsylvania judge who sent children to prisons for minor offenses, because he was getting kickbacks from the for-profit prisons. This should not even be a possibility, but it is.

    Prison should be for rehabilitating people who cannot be helped in basic society. Some people are too ‘broken’ to ever be released (mass murderers, etc.), but when you throw someone in prison for having too much weed, or shoplifting, you’re condemning that person to a sentence of torture and criminal training.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 72 Thumb down 3

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    Not while we have the largest prison population in the world. Just another of the unintended consequnces of passing feel good laws (don’t we love em) that in too many cases have put the criminal justice system on auto pilot.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  5. Jeremy says:

    This is one of those few areas where I believe privatization and making them “for-profit” is wrong. Prisons are a legitimate function of the government, as part of its duty to protect individual and property rights and uphold the rule of law. They are not meant to be privatized–and heaven forbid that any nation follow in our footsteps and put them under the management of for-profit companies–and shouldn’t be.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 2

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This is one of those few areas where I believe privatization and making them .for-profit. is wrong.

    Yes. And to add to it, this is probably the only time you will hear me speak out against a union: What the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is doing thru lobbying the Cal State legislature is criminal. For the Union, it is all about jobs, which of course means ever more draconian laws.


    Link (a PDF)

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  7. Kylopod says:

    One of my biggest problems with the movie American History X (a good but flawed film) was its use of prison rape as a point in a skinhead’s rehabilitation. It’s an example of why our culture has such a callous attitude toward the subject: people assume the rape victims deserve what’s coming to them. It springs partly from the idea that our incarceration system is too mild by itself, and that there needs to be something to scare people off of getting themselves sent to these hellholes. People who think this way never seem to consider that the rapes don’t happen to the worst criminals, but to the most physically vulnerable ones. It’s not justice, it’s the strong preying on the weak.

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  8. pcbedamned says:

    Now let me add a comment from the “other side” of the argument.

    My X is in the penitentiary system here in Canada. I put him there. He had been raping our daughter for a period of 12 or so years. She finally disclosed to me 1 week prior to her 16th birthday. Now, imagine my horror, shock, dismay, etc. that this man that I had been married to for a period of 17 years, had 2 children with, a house, a business, etc. had betrayed not only our daughter, but myself and everyone we knew (these bastards are the master of deception). And he only got 6 years for it. (the penal system here in Canada is far more lenient than in the US.). And believe it or not, that is considered a stiff sentence (it is to date – to the best of my knowledge – the longest sentence in Ontario for only 1 victim and a guilty plea). I fought my ass off to get him that amount of time (because I wanted my son to reach 18 before he got out).

    Is there a part of me that hopes to hell he is getting a taste of his own medicine? Yes. There is. My daughter didn’t have a choice. In 2014 he gets out on mandatory parole, and in 2016 he is done. My daughter has to live it forever (as do I and everyone else who was affected). Let him have the nightmare of worrying about who is behind him and when is the next time…

    For him, and others like him, I have no sympathy. There is nothing like being on the “other side” to change your world view.

    (Let me add that I do not feel this way towards non-violent offenders, and I think the American system of putting people away for years for minor drug offences is ridiculous. Also, your statutory rape laws and putting people on the sex-offender registry for such is beyond comprehension. There is a big difference between 2 people having consensual sex with a few years between them, and a pedophile. One isn’t curable, nor can it be rehabilitated).

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 64 Thumb down 57

  9. @Jeremy:

    Unless you’re an outright anarchist, even among libertarians the primary role of government is to monopolize the licit initiation of force. And you can’t get much more initiation of force than keeping someone locked in a cage against their will for years.

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  10. superdestroyer says:

    Private prisons are a method of financing the building of prisons. Government have to put up the money all in one year. Private companies can borrow the money based upon future payments.

    If people do not want prison, prisoners, or punishment, then we will quickly go back to the 1970′s with high crime and unlivable inner cities.

    If hipsters want to live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or U Street in DC, then they have to pay for the criminals to be in prison.

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  11. Anyone remember how a few years ago we invaded a country in part because of how horrifying the routine use of rape as punishment in their prisons was supposed to be?

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  12. Jay says:

    @pcbedamned: What a sad story. Very sorry to read of your troubles. I hope your daughter is coping.

    I’d only add that I think it’s fine to impose stiff penalties on violent crime. Unfortunately, our CJ system imposes stiff penalties on nonviolent crime. Better to lock up rapists for life and let pot heads free than to spread around the punishment.

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  13. Franklin says:

    @pcbedamned: Thank you for sharing, I don’t think I can even imagine the feeling.

    I agree with Jay, you’re not really presenting the “the other side” of the story (I note that you put it in quotes as well). I think most everybody is fine with locking away your X and throwing away the key. As you note, it’s the people who can be rehabilitated that we want to actually rehabilitate and release.

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  14. pcbedamned says:


    Thank you. She is well. And I agree with with everything else you stated.


    Thank you. Just to add, my point was more along the line re: men raped in prison. As terrible as it may make me seem, there is a part of me (the vindictive – stamp my feet I hate you part), that hopes he is one of those “victims”. For him to have that trepidation every time he hears footsteps coming towards him. For him to know that fear.

    Also, I do not understand the whole concept of private prisons. How is that they make money? It’s not like the prisoners are paying for the privilege of serving their time there. It would seem that the more prisoners = more output. So where do they get the funding?

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  15. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @pcbedamned: They get paid by the state or county, generally on a Per-Prisoner-Per-Month, or some similar, basis. It’s kind of the same way we do healthcare, and equally backward.

    Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  16. Franklin says:

    @pcbedamned: Ahhh, okay, the meaning is more clear now.

    Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. pcbedamned says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Now I get it – they ‘contract out’. Thank you. It certainly makes sense now as to why they do such ridiculous sentencing.
    (It seems here in Canada they do their damnedest to keep people out of the prison system, even when they should be incarcerated).

    Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. walt moffett says:

    in the FWIW category, there was a Congressionally mandated National Prison Rape Elimination Commission which submitted its report in 2009. Copy can be found at UNT’s Library

    About the only hope I see for change is another wave of case action suits with resultant mass releases, etc. Then the cycle will repeat.

    Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0