Prison Rape Statistics: The Culture of Rape in US Prisons
Published November 27, 2022
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) revealed that in 2018 alone, there are a total of 27,826 reported rape allegations in adult correctional facilities. While about 7.1% of juvenile inmates reported sexual abuse in the same year.
These numbers just show that the culture of rape is very prevalent in US prisons. Despite laws and measures implemented to reduce the incidence of prison rape, it still happens.
In fact, many studies suggest that sexual abuse in prisons and jails are severely underreported. Meaning, the numbers mentioned above are significantly lower than the actual incidence of rape in US prisons.
Because of this gross underreporting, it’s difficult to get reliable statistics on prison rape in the US. Still, the BJS data is the most comprehensive report on the topic. So if we want to learn more about the culture of rape in US prisons, it’s our best bet.
With that, here are some prison rape statistics gathered from BJS data and other authoritative sources:
Prison Rape Statistics: Fast Facts
- In 2008, an estimated more than 209,400 persons were victims of sexual abuse in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities across the country. (Department of Justice, 2012)
- Inmate-to-inmate sexual harassment made up more than half of all reported prison rape incidents. (BJS data, 2016-2018)
- Only 6% (1,673) of the reported cases of sexual abuse were substantiated. (BJS data, 2018)
- Women inmates are more likely to experience sexual abuse from other inmates than male inmates. (BJS Report, 2008)
- Female prisoners are three times more likely to be abused by other women inmates than by male staff. (Scientific American Magazine, 2017)
- At least 15% of incarcerated women are victims of sexual assault in prisons. (Human Rights Watch, 2007)
- Reported incidents of sexual abuse in juvenile facilities have declined by more than 2% from 2012 to 2018. (BJS Report, 2018)
Rape Statistics in Adult Facilities
- About 68% (18,884) of alleged prison rape incidents were reported in federal, state, and private prisons.
- Jails contributed 31% (8,651) to the reported alleged incidents of rape in adult correctional facilities.
- About 1% of the total reported cases of prison rape happened in military prisons, immigration detention centers, and Indian county jails.
- In 2018, jails reported 3.5 times as many alleged rape cases as they did in 2012. While prisons reported 2.5 times more cases in the same period.
- From 2016-2018, a total of 28,068 reports of inmate-to-inmate sexual harassment were recorded in jails and prisons.
- The number of substantiated sexual victimization reports in adult correctional facilities has almost doubled from 2012 to 2018.
- About 10,609 incidents of staff sexual misconduct and harassment were recorded in federal and state prisons for 2018 alone. Only 443 (about 4%) of these were substantiated.
Prison Rape Statistics in Juvenile Facilities
- In 2018, 5.8% of juvenile inmates reported sexual misconduct by facility staff.
- About 4% of juvenile inmates who experienced sexual abuse reported that they were forced or coerced. Of this, 2.1% were abused by facility staff, while the other 1.9% are victims of their fellow inmates.
- Young female inmates are more likely to report youth-on-youth sexual harassment than young male inmates.
- About 7.1% of detained male youth and 6.6% of female youth claimed to have experienced sexual abuse in 2018 alone.
- At 21.5%, Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarcerated youth to have reported sexual victimization.
How Many Prison Rapes are Not Reported?
There isn’t really an accurate estimate of how many cases of prison rape are unreported.
Conservative estimates say that the actual incidents of prison rape are about 10 times higher than reported numbers. Though a 2011 report by the BJS also estimates that up to 65% of sexual assault incidents in prison are unreported.
Fear, coupled with the stigma of victimization are some of the main reasons why victims are reluctant to report rape and sexual abuse. Besides, most of the perpetrators (whether inmate or staff) of these kinds of crimes have some kind of power or influence over their victims. As such, coming out and exposing their abusers isn’t always easy.
In addition, sexual coercion (groping or unwanted touching of private parts) is more prevalent than the act of rape itself. Because of this, victims often find it unnecessary to report such acts. The fact that only a very small percentage of reported cases are substantiated may also be a contributing factor.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act
In 2001, the Human Rights Watch published a report exposing the prevalence of rape in US prisons. It revealed that while prison officials shrug off allegations of sexual abuse as “rare” or “not a problem”, the statistics say otherwise. It also eliminated some of the reasons why sexual abuses are very common and even normalized in some prisons.
Because of this, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was enacted in September 2003. This law prohibits any acts of sexual misconduct in correctional and detention facilities. With this, it aims to eradicate the culture of prison rape.
Under this law, sexual misconduct includes:
- inmate-on-inmate sexual assault and abuse
- staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct
- inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual harassment
After this law was enacted, the true extent of the prison rape culture was slowly exposed to the public. It also inspired more inmates to speak up and report incidents of sexual assault and violence. As a result, the bureau has seen an increase in the number of prison rape cases for the past few years.
Despite these positive developments, we still have a long way to go to totally eradicate the culture of rape in US prisons. But if more inmates continue to speak up about the abuses in the prison system, we might have a real chance of making major changes to the current prison statistics.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer for the GlobalTel blog. She works hard to ensure her work contains accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources and doesn’t settle for less. Her passion for telling stories about true crime and criminal justice has allowed her to create hundreds of articles that have benefited millions of people.