Sexual Victimization of Inmates
The question of sexual victimization in prisons is a topic that elicits great debate, largely due to the perceptions and attitudes that the general population has towards prison and belief regarding what occurs in prison. Most inmates usually share similar fears regarding prison and sexual victimization, although Wolff and Shi (2011) dispute this belief and fear. The two researchers in an attempt to prove that the fear of sexual victimization in prison is usually more common than the victimization carry out a study involving incarcerated male and female inmates. The United States Department of Justice also carries out a survey involving former prisoners, with the findings indicating a slighter higher finding of victimization (7.5%) compared to the results reported by Wolff and Shi (2011) for males (7%) but lower than findings reported by the two researchers for females (22%).
The findings for the rates of victimization involving inmates was found to be higher for females by both surveys, with Wolff and Shi (2011) recording a finding of 22%, while the U.S Department for Justice survey recorded findings of 13.7%. Findings for the male inmates when it came to inmate on inmate victimization were similar for the two surveys, 4.2% and 4% respectively. Wolff and Shi (2011) report significantly higher findings for staff on inmate sexual victimization, both consensual and non-consensual. Wolff and Shi report 7% for males and 8% for females, although findings on non consensual sexual acts between staff and male inmates was at 1.1% for both surveys. The survey by the U.S Department of Justice (2008) however, raises the point that part of the reason for this lower finding when it came to cases of non consensual sexual victimization between staff and inmates, was the fact that very few inmates willingly report such cases. Overall, the findings for the two surveys are markedly different, although the survey by the U.S Department of Justice is more diverse and incorporates more variables. For instance, it contains findings based on the sexuality of the inmates, where the homosexual inmates of both sexes experience significantly higher levels of victimization. The survey also contains findings based on race, focusing on non-Hispanic white inmates (who recorded the highest level of abuse), followed by inmates of mixed race and finally black inmates.
The use of former inmates based on the findings, does present an advantage, especially when it comes to reporting staff on inmate sexual victimization. Most inmates based on the findings, display a higher likelihood of reporting cases of victimization more willingly when outside prison, rather than within it, as they feel they are less likely to be victimized for telling the truth. This is in particular a significant strength of carrying out surveys on former prisoners. However, interviewing former prisoners also presents the risk that the findings might not represent the current state of affairs, as some of the inmates might be reporting occurrences that took place in a distant past, rendering them irrelevant. Similarly, one could argue that inmates who still find themselves within the confines of prison are likely to be more motivated to tell the truth and report any cases of victimization in the hope that things might change, or that steps could be taken to ensure their safety. All in all, findings from both surveys disprove the common belief that there is widespread sexual victimization of inmates in United States Prisons.