Modern Oubliettes: Rape Culture in American Prisons
By Starling 1269
I have long decried countries like Cuba, China, and Venezuela for their civil rights violations and general crimes against humanity. I have also defended the United States of America as being the single most free and fair country on the planet. I have done this even understanding America’s failings. I could certainly talk about our foreign policy blunders, the increasingly concerning and racially charged rhetoric coming from both the left and the right, or the blatant cronyism in our government—but today I will be talking about something that I have been thinking about for a while, and has taken a much more personal meaning to me after I started my transition.
The United States prison system, and the frankly unconscionable things that are happening right now and have been for longer than I’ve been alive.
I have always been skeptical of the notion that the US is a “rape culture,” I certainly do not think that it is normalized in the way that is claimed commonly. At least not for many years; Except in two cases: In prisons and when the perpetrator is a woman. Not too long ago I would have said when the perpetrator and victim were married they would be in this too, but that has been changing, and anyway I digress.
Prison rape is a phenomenon that very few people are not aware of, but there is very little push for change despite very little actually being done about it; In America, anyway. The FIRST legal action taken to address this issue on the national level was in 2003, and a later expansion of this by the Justice Department would be the SECOND and LAST. Neither of these legal measures have actually reduced the rates of sexual assault in American prisons, let alone eliminated them. It is estimated that 4.5% of prisoners experience sexual assault, but it is also noted that it is hard to impossible to make an accurate assessment because of just how underreported this is. It should further be noted that it is about as likely for an inmate to be assaulted by fellow prisoners as it is a member of the prison staff and jails were nearly as likely as prisons for these rates to be present.
Particularly brutal is the situation that transfeminine people find themselves in, particularly if they are housed in men’s facilities. Where rape, sexual assault, dehumanization, invalidation, and general violence are serious problems that they face. Now, progress HAS been made on this particular subject but it is slow going, and still has a long way to go. Being a trans woman myself, I will admit that the thought of being subject to this treatment does occur to me and rather often. Every time I pass a cop car while driving, every time I see a flash of lights or hear a siren, every time I get pulled over for some minor issue… I think about it, it colors my experience with the police. I can’t help but be hyper-aware that this man, and it is almost always a man, can just decide he doesn’t like me for whatever reason and just destroy me as a person.
Remember, even jails have comparable sexual assault rates to prisons, it is entirely possible that a police officer can pull me over and then just make up some BS charge and put me in the local jail for a few days. Just because he felt like it or was transphobic. I doubt this would happen, but it could. Most cops wouldn’t be that cruel, but some might. Most visits to jail for any length of time do not result in sexual assault, but some might. It’s an added context to the situation, almost an implied threat. In many ways that is the point, I mentioned earlier that most people are aware of the problem but do nothing about it. This is, at least partly, due to the perception of justice as the meting out of punishment and the idea of basic human rights and dignity being a privilege. Something that can be taken away if you step out of line, for most people that would mean breaking the law. However, some people step out of line just by existing. Being visibly transgender, I feel I am one of those people.
As such, I know that this situation cannot be allowed to continue unabated. Something needs to be done because people are suffering, being humiliated, and dying because of this profound injustice.
However, actual solutions are few and far between. The National Institute of Justice is recommending training and education programs for both inmates and prison staff in order to change the culture of the environment. I, personally, think the problem is more fundamental to this. The systems and infrastructure and momentum of the current situation are such that I just do not think that reform can break this habit. This mindset. I think that RADICAL upheaval of the prison system to make it more in line with the Swedish model, as well as putting an end to the drug war, is what is needed to really start dealing with this and the many other issues with the American model. More funding, better use of funding, less crowding, and more and better-trained staff with greater accountability and visibility. Smaller prisons, more lower security prisons for non-violent offenders, more out-of-prison programs such as house arrest and community service, more in prison inmate training, education, and opportunities to better themselves and their situation. A justice system built around the principles of compassion and rehabilitation, that we can hopefully lower not just sexual assault but also recidivism rate and in prison gang recruitment.
This will be hard to pull off though, we will have to break through the inclination of people to want to dehumanize criminals. We will have to break through the corrupt prison unions and lobby. We will have to overcome this culture of apathetic acceptance of what people should rightly find nothing less than a repugnant crime against humanity.
Please, if nothing else, make your voice known about this issue. On social media, to your local politicians, to your friends. This needs to change, and it needs to change NOW.
A Case For Good State Flags
By Pink And Black
In 2020, the state of Mississippi officially changed its state flag. The old controversial design prominently featured the Confederate battle flag, a painful memory for many in the state. The new design, called the “New Magnolia”, passed with a large margin. Not long after Mississippi changed its flag, Massachusetts and Utah moved to change their flags too. Massachusetts is seeking to change theirs for a similar reason to Mississippi, to remove imagery often interpreted as racist. Utah, however, is changing theirs for aesthetic reasons. Rep. Steve Handy, in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, said, “I’ve heard from our younger constituents who say they don’t relate to the flag right now. We need something that will instill greater pride.”
Have you ever met a Texan? If you have, you’ve probably noticed the flag. On their clothes, as a pin on their bag, or as a magnet on their fridge. This beautifully designed flag brings pride, and it’s with that pride that Texas is the most important name in America, despite playing second fiddle to California in terms of population and economy. Good flags bring pride to a state.
Next, what is a good flag? While there are many exceptions to these rules, I recommend the NAVA’s 5 Basic Principles of Flag Design. First, keep it simple, like France or Japan. Second, use meaningful symbolism, like the pan-African colors of Ethiopia. Third, use 2-3 basic colors, like the USA or Germany. Fourth, No lettering or seals, your flag should be recognizable enough to not need them. Lastly, either be distinctive, like Canada, or be related in a clear way to another flag, like the Netherlands to France.
Finally, the most important question: How can you improve the state flag of your state? Well, it’s actually quite simple. Write or Email your state representative. It’s really that simple. The desire for a pretty flag is so common that even convincing one person in your state legislation to try and change the flag can quickly snowball into actual change.