There must be zero tolerance for rape, abuse of inmates

GUEST OPINION PRISON SYSTEM

July 8, 2014 

Injustice is alive and well in Idaho. Month after month, Idaho has made national headlines for ignoring the sexual abuse and rape of people in prison and in the university system.

Sexual assault or rape of detainees, whether committed by corrections staff or by inmates, is a crime. While Idaho's crime rate is the third lowest in the country, Idaho has the sixth highest rate of prison growth and the second highest rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, according to a recent National Inmate Survey. Idaho has taken the unjustifiable position that our prisons and juvenile detention facilities will not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act - allowing state-sanctioned rape and abuse to be carried out with impunity.

Idaho has been given ample time to comply with this important act to stop abuse. U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole emphasizes the importance of this act calling it "an unequivocal rejection of the outdated - and morally unconscionable - acceptance of rape as part of the sentence being served by an adult or juvenile in the American correctional system." We must not accept these devastating human rights violations as a penalty of incarceration.

Furthermore, sexual violence in Idaho is not limited just to the prison system. Recently, Dr. Caroline Heldman spoke on Boise State's campus through the Andrus Center on Public Policy, noting that we live in a society where going to college is a risk factor for being raped.

Idaho is no exception. The University of Idaho is under a Title IX investigation for sexual harassment. Earlier this year the school made headlines in The Atlantic as an example of the endemic and widespread sexual abuse and assault of women that often occurs in the fraternity system. Boise State University has also received national attention and is facing a lawsuit that alleges the university repeatedly ignored severe sexual harassment and rape on campus. We must not accept these devastating human rights violations as a risk factor of higher education.

Violence is not inevitable - it is possible to change the underlying conditions and structures that contribute to violence occurring in the first place. At its core, sexual assault and rape exist because we live in a culture of domination - played out in our culture through rigid gender roles, the celebration of violent masculinity in video games and other media, the dehumanization of women in the media, the proliferation of pornography and more.

By taking a stand against systemic and pervasive abuse, Idaho can create compassionate communities with respect, equity and justice for all human beings, where rape and abuse are no longer a common occurrence. Prisons and juvenile detention centers can be reformed with committed leaders, sound practices to keep inmates safe and a "zero tolerance" of rape. Idaho can increase the awareness of the problem of sexual assault on colleges and universities by addressing rape culture, by increasing positive bystander intervention through evidence-based practices and ensuring campuses are actively working to make colleges a safe and thriving environment.

The rape of any person is a violation of human rights that cannot be tolerated or justified. This must change; all of Idaho's institutions should commit to upholding basic human rights.

The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence is willing to engage in meaningful conversations with Idaho's criminal justice and university systems to create a better future. No one should ever be abused or raped. It's that simple.

Kelly Miller is the executive director of Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.

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