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Prison Rape: A Critical Review of the Literature, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2004
71 pages
This paper presents a critical review of the published research on prison sexual victimization and offers suggestions for measuring the prevalence and incidence of sexual victimization in prison.
The problem of prison rape is a difficult problem to address for many reasons, including difficulties in estimating the prevalence and nature of prison rape. The first section of this paper focuses on the goals and findings of the Prison Elimination Act of 2003, a public law that called attention to the lack of research on the extent of prison rape and sets a zero-tolerance standard for the offense, making prison rape elimination a top priority in every prison system throughout the United States. The second section of the paper reviews the current research on the prevalence of jail and prison sexual victimization. The authors find that current research is plagued by the stigma associated with sexual victimization and by the problem of relying on self-report measures for sensitive topics, such as rape. The third section focuses on the different methods that have been used by researchers to study sensitive behaviors, such as illicit drug use or abortion, including computer assisted techniques and self-administered surveys. The next section addresses the validity of self-report measures and investigates how self-report survey data can be verified using more objective measures. Finally, the difficulties involved with rank ordering prisons according to their sexual victimization rates are probed, including the observation that certain types of prisons will likely have higher sexual victimization rates because of their security status, institutional operations, and type and composition of the inmates. In the end, the task of estimating the problem of prison rape, required by the Prison Elimination Act of 2003, is a formidable one, yet is well worth the resources and effort it will take. Table, references, figure

Date Published: March 1, 2004