Several years ago I wrote a short series of posts about our society's despicable tolerance of prison rape, and this editorial by Ezra Klein presents a good opportunity to raise the matter again: "There's nothing funny about prison rape".
These hearings are held annually. This year's transcripts aren't online yet, but in 2006 you could have heard a man named Clinton explain, "I had no choice but to enter into a relationship with another inmate in my dorm in order to keep the rest of them off of me. In exchange for his protection from other inmates, I had to be with him sexually any time he demanded it. It was so humiliating, and I often cried silently at night in my bed ... but dealing with one is better than having 10 or more men demanding sex from you at any given time."
Clinton's testimony wasn't very funny, and it wasn't for entertainment. Nor was the 2001 report by Human Rights Watch, "No Escape," which included a letter from an inmate confessing that "I have no more feelings physically. I have been raped by up to five black men and two white men at a time. I've had knifes at my head and throat. I had fought and been beat so hard that I didn't ever think I'd see straight again."
Prison rape occupies a fairly odd space in our culture. It is, all at once, a cherished source of humor, a tacitly accepted form of punishment and a broadly understood human rights abuse. We pass legislation called the Prison Rape Elimination Act at the same time that we produce films meant to explore the funny side of inmate sexual brutality.
If we as a culture really want to subject our criminals to this sort of torture then let's do it explicitly, not with a wink and a nudge. I'm abstractly in favor of corporal punishment, but this sort of sexual abuse is clearly beyond the pale and should be loudly condemned and quickly eliminated.