Incarcerated individuals deserve inclusion in social movement against sexual assault

Since the beginning of the “#MeToo” movement, countless sexual assault survivors have come forward, telling their stories and demanding acknowledgement. One major group of survivors, however, has been wrongfully silenced thanks to harmful stereotypes: incarcerated individuals.

Regardless of what acts people in prison committed, no one deserves to be sexually abused and forcibly kept quiet.

Sexual crimes in prison are not uncommon, as “Every year, about 200,000 people are sexually abused in U.S. detention facilities,” according to the Los Angeles Times. That is 200,00 crimes committed that are swept under the rug and never see the light of day.

Just like the innumerable other victims of sexual assault who have come forward partly as a result of the “#MeToo” movement, inmates are threatened and scared into silence. 

“Incarcerated women cannot escape their abusers, and they place themselves at risk of retaliation if they speak up. When an incarcerated woman does come forward about sexual abuse, the prison’s response is often to transfer her out of the facility—not the officer,” as reported by HuffPost.

With this policy essentially perpetuating victim blaming, it is clear something needs to give. 

Survivors who are not incarcerated have found refuge through social media—the powerful tool that allowed the “#MeToo” movement to start actual change. Such platforms “are now being used to rebuke sexism and have sent powerful ripples across the media and entertainment industries. But incarcerated women live in a world without hashtags and Facebook,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Without “#MeToo,” or any other similar movements on their side, survivors of sexual abuse in prison are left with nowhere to turn. These are already people who society has virtually tossed to the side and completely disregarded. They shouldn’t be subjected to sexual assault too.

Kim Brown, who was sexually assaulted while incarcerated said, “Even though we broke the law, rape, intimidation and sexual harassment were not part of our sentence. I want to say to the officers: Your job was to maintain ‘care, custody and control,’ not to rape or harass me,” in her HuffPost article.

Brown’s comments need to be taking seriously. Sexual harassment was not part of her punishment, and this is something no one should have to go through, no matter who they are.

Within the last couple decades, there have been efforts to reduce sexual abuse in prisons across the country, namely through the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

“PREA standards … mandate that prisons, jails and youth facilities provide a way for inmates to report sexual abuse to an outside, independent entity. Under PREA, all incarcerated people must be given information about their rights and how to get help if they are assaulted,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

While PREA sounds great in theory, the stigma revolving around incarceration is still at work. For example, too few outside agencies are willing to provide services for survivors in prison, despite the fact PREA requires them to do so, according to the Los Angeles Times

Stronger enforcement and support of PREA, as well as destigmatizing incarcerated people are the most crucial steps toward ending sexual assault in prisons. After all, prisoners are still people. 

“Incarcerated women need a voice while they’re still inside those walls. For the “Me Too” movement to have a meaningful impact on ending rape culture, it must include the voices of incarcerated women, who, at this very moment, are still silently enduring horrific abuse,” as reported by HuffPost.

Absolutely no one deserves to be subjected to sexual assault, whether they are in prison or not. It is time to allow everyone, including people serving time, to tell their stories and demand justice.