New York State To Show New Videos About Avoiding Rape In Prison During Orientation Process

By Dana Daniels

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How to avoid getting raped in prison: this is the topic of a new set of New York State inmate orientation videos released earlier this week by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit nonpartisan news organization covering America’s criminal justice system.

Both films — one for male correctional facilities and one for female facilities — are directed by TJ Parsell, an ex-convict who, on the first night of his incarceration at age 17, was drugged and raped by a fellow inmate. The films are interesting in the fact that they’re not what one would expect from an orientation video: that is, 20 minutes of a smiling bureaucrat preaching bullshit. While the Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections makes an appearance in both videos to emphasize that sexual assault should never be a part of serving one’s sentence, the majority of both films is current and former inmates sharing their experiences upon entering prison, as well as how their preconceived ideas of being “locked up” compared with reality.

The underlying theme of both videos is that, increased public awareness of prison rape means that it no longer occurs through the violent group assaults we see on television, it still happens. Now, however, predators force their victims into submission, not through force, but through subtle long-term manipulation and “grooming” similar to the way pedophiles befriend their victims and gain their trust with the sole purpose of lowering their victims’ inhibitions to make sexual assault easier.

The interviewed convicts describe the political machine-esque way that their assailants took advantage of their naïveté and fear by providing new inmates with things — such as shower slippers or cigarettes — out of the kindness of their hearts and supposedly for free. For many, the sexual abuse began later, when they were called upon to pay a debt they didn’t know they possessed. Thus, the convicts interviewed nearly all agreed that new inmates should look out for over-friendly strangers. Most likely, such generosity is not just a kind soul looking’s way to look out for the new guy, but rather is a sign of psychological manipulation that may lead to sexual violence. In fact, some inmates describes being manipulated so well that it was not until years after their sentences were up that they realized they had been raped.

There are some differences in the men’s and women’s versions of the film. The film for men’s correctional facilities has an added section about choosing a safe workout partner. One thing TV got right was the importance of exercise in what one may call “prison culture”; however, inmates say that what’s called the “weight pile” is often a sexual predator’s playground, for they can earn a new inmate’s trust easily by offering to be a spotter, work-out partner, or help in another way. Eventually, a predator may manipulate that trust into an eventual sexual relationship.

The women’s version mentions the added threat of sexual violence towards lesbian or transgendered inmates. One gay convict said that her masculine appearance — her “butchness” — made her a target, because it was assumed that she’d be easier to rape, because she already “liked girls.”

Public awareness of raped in prison is a rarely new phenomenon. In general, society doesn’t seem to like to think about the human rights of convicted criminals, because “you do the crime, you do the time.” In fact, there is no accurate assessment of how many convicted individuals are raped while serving their sentences every year, for it is an uncomfortable topic and reporting often seems useless due to fear that complaints will go ignored. However, the fact that it is necessary to show new inmates a 20-minute video about preventing sexual assault speaks to the greatness of the problem.

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