Sexual assault rates rise in US jails, prisons and military according to new 2012 statistical analysis

Sexual violence against women in U.S. jails, prisons and the military has increased according to 2012 statistical reports.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 requires an annual “comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape,” conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. These reviews include the Survey of Sexual Violence.

A recent release of the SSV reveals that the national estimate of allegations of sexual victimization rose from 6,241 in 2005 to 7,444 in 2008.

In 2012, Tutwiler Prison in Alabama was exposed by the Equal Justice Initiative as one of the most severe cases of sexual violence against women amongst U.S. correctional facilities. According to the EJI, Tutwiler Prison was guilty of under reporting data concerning sexual violence within the facility.

Some attribute the high rates of sexual violence against incarcerated women to the gender dynamics in correctional facilities.

“Having male guards sends a message that female prisoners have no right to defend their bodies,” former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn told Truthout. “Putting women under men in authority makes the power imbalance as stark as it can be and results in long-lasting repercussions post-release.”

In many correctional facilities, sexual misconduct may be not be reported due to fear or bribery by correctional officers.

Inmates are often coerced into sexual activity with promises of extra privileges or threats of punishment, such as solitary confinement. If an inmate tries to report sexual misconduct, she may be discouraged from doing so or even threatened.

Under-reporting is also an issue in cases of sexual violence within the U.S. military. Of the sexual assaults in the U.S. military that are reported, less than 6 percent resulted in conviction.

In an anonymous survey of women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22.8 percent reported being victims of sexual assault or rape while in a war zone.

The Pentagon’s annual report on sexual harassment released in December showed a 23 percent increase in sexual assaults reported by students at its military academies, making 2012 the third consecutive year of increase.

Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, identified the flaws in the military justice system.

“Every aspect is dysfunctional: from prevention and victim care, to reporting, investigation, prosecution and adjudication,” Parrish told The Guilfordian. “The system is encumbered with command bias and conflict of interest, inexperienced and under-trained staff, (and) arbitrary and inconsistent application of the law.”

Forty percent of women who reported being victims of sexual assault claimed that their perpetrator held a higher rank in the military chain of command.

“The system elevates an individual commander’s authority and discretion over the rule of law,” Parrish continued. “Commanders can and do arbitrarily decide to not proceed with prosecutions, or (they) set convictions or sentences aside.”

2013 is already emphasizing the fight against institutional sexual violence.

Legislative action is being taken to protect women from assault. The Violence Against Women Act, being voted on by the House of Representatives within the week, contains provisions that could help to protect incarcerated women from being sexually assaulted.

“This is an issue I, as Secretary of Defense, am committed to making sure we confront,” said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to NBC. His plan recommended placing more women into command positions in the military, improving investigations and educating soldiers about the issue of sexual assault.

Panetta is also against moving military sexual assault cases to civilian courts.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier plans to reintroduce the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act in the coming year. The STOP Act would “take the reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the military’s normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in the newly-created, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts.”

Sexual assault within these U.S. institutions has become more prevalent, but with effective legislation and attention, does not need to remain a threat to women within government-run prisons or the military.