March 19, 2015

No Rape Instead Consensual Sex on England and Wales Prisons






‘Sexual activity is widespread in prisons and must be seen as an urgent health issue,’ said Frances Crook of the Howard League. 
 ‘Sexual activity is widespread in prisons and must be seen as an urgent health issue,’ said Frances Crook of the Howard League. Photograph: Alamy

Rape is extremely rare in prisons in England and Wales, whereas consensual gay sex, pornography and masturbation is widespread and accepted, according to the findings of the first systematic review of sex between inmates.
The two-year commission on sex in prison, set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform, warns of an “urgent health issue” and calls for “coherent and consistently applied policies which recognise and respond to the reality of consensual and coercive sex in prison”.
The commission was blocked by the Ministry of Justice from interviewing current inmates, so instead based its research on in-depth interviews by a criminologist, Dr Alisa Stevens, with 26 former prisoners who spoke for the first time about their experiences.
Gay and bisexual ex-prisoners reported that while they were able to be open about their sexuality on the wing, they were discreet about their sexual activities and relationships.
They usually had sex in the cell of one of the participants or in the showers during periods of association. Some men who shared cells had sex at night despite official prison policy that men who are discovered to be in a sexual relationship should be separated and not allowed to share a cell.


One heterosexual man said that he had sex with gay or bisexual prisoners “out of necessity” and had resumed exclusive heterosexual relationships since leaving prison: “I’m completely straight. What happened then was just about having my sexual needs met, in a particular time and place where I couldn’t get [heterosexual] sex.”
The researchers found that the availability of condoms and dental dams to minimise the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections varied widely from prison to prison. Some of those interviewed had been refused condoms while others could get them from healthcare but in circumstances that didn’t allow for any privacy.
The two women ex-prisoners who were interviewed said they had not had personal experience of sex in prison but were aware that “close friendships” were commonplace: “I couldn’t believe how much kissing and cuddling was going on,” said one. “It was a big, big shock, a big culture shock. Someone like me, never been in prison before. I didn’t know where to look half the time!”



The former prisoners insisted that coerced sex was rare behind bars. Three male interviewees disclosed that they had been raped by other prisoners, and three others had been threatened with rape while they were in prison.
One had been raped by five assailants in a cell but was dissuaded from making a formal complaint by a prison officer. He was advised that “grassing” on other prisoners at such an early stage in his long sentence would “mark his cards” for the rest of his time inside.
The researchers also found a tacit acceptance by prison staff of both pornography and masturbation. One interviewee recalled how, feeling “overwhelmed and nervous” on his first night, he asked for a bible. He was told apologetically by an officer that they had no bibles but he could offer him some pornographic magazines to “help you get to sleep”.
Stevens said: “This research has illustrated the urgent need for coherent and consistently applied policies which recognise and respond to the reality of consensual and coercive sex in prison.”
Frances Crook, the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This final report of the commission shows that sexual activity is widespread in prisons and must be seen as an urgent health issue. The commission has conducted the first systematic review of sex in prison and it is clear important lessons must be learned, and fast.”
A HM Prison Service spokesperson said: “We do not condone sex in prisons or believe that prisoners in a relationship should share a cell. 
“We take the report of any sexual assault incredibly seriously and ensure that victims are supported and protected. Every incident is fully investigated and careful analysis is currently taking place to help understand the reasons behind sexual assaults in prisons.”
The spokesperson said the rise in referring cases to the police showed commitment of HMPS to tackling the issue: “We have introduced a new protocol with the police and crown prosecution service to introduce a new approach to further aid the investigation of crime in prison.”

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