Graphic by Surya dev Yadav

It is shocking to know that to this day people still misunderstand the definition of sexual violence.

Sexual violence is an umbrella term that broadly includes sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, molestation and rape. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has defined sexual harassment as any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in a workplace or learning environment. It can also include demeaning or violent “jokes” and comments targeted toward gender groups as a whole, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

Also under the blanket term sexual violence, RAINN defines sexual assault as any sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Up until 2011, the FBI had defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Later on, the FBI had altered the definition to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” To sum it up, all rape is considered as a sexual assault, but all sexual assaults are considered not rape.

Now that that’s out of the way, it is important to understand that although there have been numerous prison reforms that were carried out over the years, prisons continue to be harbours of extreme cruelty, even more so for those who cannot defend themselves against the bullies. Inmates are often tortured both mentally and physically, however, sexual abuse remains the real nightmare.

As per the results of surveys conducted in US and UK jails, the prevalence of non-consensual sex between inmates is alarming. A report by the US Department of Justice released in 2012 said that 1 out of 10 prisoners have gone through sexual abuse; this could have been in jail or their post-release treatment facilities. Furthermore, the survey also reported that around a quarter of the people who took part in the survey have suffered unnecessary sexual contact from other inmates and were also physically constrained or restrained. They were also physically injured. Almost 23% have reported having grave injuries which include anal/vaginal tearing. Yet another report put together by the Commission on Sex in Prison in the UK has said that thousands of prisoners may have been raped or sexually assaulted, and to great dismay, many of them are hidden or underreported. The report added that the number of rape and assault victims in prisons is rising rapidly.

The poor conditions in Indian jails is a popularly known fact, the methods to which the people in charge resort to obtain information or confessions include torture and beatings; the cells are maintained poorly, they lack hygiene, it is overcrowded and the odour is by no means welcoming; all of which deprives basic human rights from an inmate.

To this day when rape and sexual assaults especially towards women remain a sensitive issue, it is alarming that custodial rapes and sexual assaults in prisons continue to be under-reported and under-discussed. It is even more distressing that we fail to identify the same when it happens to men. In V R Krishna Iyer’s book “The Dialectics and Dynamics of Human Rights in India,” prison rape includes both different and same-sex assault. Prison rape is an atrocious level of inmate mistreatment.

A report by the National Commission of Women called A Study of condition of Women Prisoners & Their Children in Eastern U.P. Jails sheds light on many incidents of sexual violence in jail. Many inmates have returned terrified, unable to walk due to severe injuries in the vaginal and rectum area. After going through such heinous instances people often tend to lose their sanity.

Ironically, rape and other sexual assaults that prisoners go through are justified by not just the staff but also outsiders saying they are getting what they deserve. Prisoners are not safe even behind bars. The indifference they face from either the police officials or other justice institutions needs to be brought under the limelight. After all, our Constitution promises justice for all.

Surprisingly, according to statistics, in prisons, rape or sexual assaults are mostly committed against males than females. And the Indian Penal Code still does not recognise rape against men. To make things even more worse, members of the LGBTQ+ community are more exposed in prisons. The presence of hyper-masculinity in prisons makes it harder for a victim of sodomy to report it, they are afraid if they will be called “weak” or seem like an easy prey. This could also be the reason why they choose to remain silent about the assault or rape, due to fear of being targeted many resort to trading their bodies in return for protection.

It is important to make sure prisons are well established both in terms of infrastructure and providing justice. Steps must be taken to improve the carrying out of justice irrespective of a person’s past.

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  1. Jessica Agnes

    You have bought a hidden cruel matter that is often ignored by people, to light.. This kind of awareness is very much needed in our society.. Thank you..


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