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Stephen Donaldson, a Quaker activist, was jailed for refusing to post a ten dollar bond after being arrested during a “pray-in” at the White House in 1973. He ended up in a hospital torn and bleeding after his fellow prisoners raped him some 60 times in two days.

Tom Cahill, a political activist, was arrested in 1968 in San Antonio, Texas, for destroying company property in a union dispute. He was beat, tortured, and gang-raped for 24 hours.

Today, Donaldson and Cahill are leaders of POSRIP — People Organized to Stop Rape of Imprisoned Persons. And they have found that no one, from the media to official authorities, is interested in the problem.

According to Donaldson, the problem is severe — the number of men raped in prisons in the United States each day may exceed 25,000, not including boys sexually abused in reformatories. Women, who make up four per cent of the prison population, also suffer rape and abuse daily.

Typical “fresh meat” are young heterosexual first offenders — then the cycle begins. Once raped, or “turned out” as they call it, the victim is caught in a bind. If an inmate reports a sexual assault, even without naming the assailant, other prisoners label the victim a “snitch.” The life expectancy of a “snitch” is measured in minutes.

Most often the rape victim becomes a rapist, possibly in an attempt to “regain manhood” by destroying that of another man.

Meanwhile, prison officials consistently deny that rape is widespread in their institutions. Donaldson believes that rape is a management tool used to divide and conquer the prison population, discipline troublemakers, and destroy potential leaders. Better that prisoners attack each other than their keepers.

Cahill charges that incidents of sexual assault, forced prostitution , and outright slavery are epidemic in the prisons. By continuing to ignore the problem in today’s prisons, society is helping to create tomorrow’s sociopaths and psychopaths.


THE PROGRESSIVE, November 1985, “Rape Behind Bars,” by Tom Cahill.