Charlotte Safavi: Raping our Youth in Jail?

Jan 9, 20100 comments

One of the most heartbreaking stories that came out of Iran after the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was about a boy.

He was 15 years old.

For wearing a green wristband — the signature color of the opposition — and for protesting the election results in the streets of a provincial town, he was locked up in jail for 20 days, and repeatedly beaten and raped.

The child — for that is what a 15-year-old is — told Times Online in an interview, “My life is over. I don’t think I can ever recover.”

As a parent, a mother with a son, these words cut to my core.

On January 7, 2010, when the US Justice Department released a report entitled Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-2009, it was as if someone twisted the knife.

The report stated that 12% of our incarcerated juveniles were raped or sexually abused by prison staff members or fellow juvenile inmates. (91% of those incarcerated were male.)

We are not talking about a notorious jail in a theocratic country, like Kahrizak in Iran, where after months of detainee abuse, several prison officials have been charged with the torture and murder of three opposition protesters.

We are talking right here in America.

Worse, according to a story in the Washington Post today, these atrocities have been going on in my neck of the woods. Though the study covered 195 US juvenile detention facilities, only 13 had a ratio of 1 in 3 victims. Three sites with highest sexual victimization rates are Virginia’s Culpeper Juvenile Correctional Center and Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, and Maryland’s Backbone Mountain Youth Center.

Whatever crimes they committed, we are talking about the sexual abuse of deeply troubled youth. It could be argued that the youth reported their victimization inaccurately. But is 5% better than 12%? Is 1% acceptable? Does it make it OK to sexually victimize a young US criminal more so than an innocent Iranian protestor?

In my books a rape is a rape.

It seems Congress passed a law six years ago to reduce prison rapes, establishing a commission for developing state and federal guidelines. Though the commission released the guidelines June 2009, resolution is still pending.

Ironically also in June 2009, as part of his official statement in reaction to the clampdown on protesters in Iran, President Obama said, “…We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people…”

I know our government has it’s hands full. I am just saying we need to tend to our own backyard.