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Untitled Document

Non-violent drug offenders asked to shed light on prison sexual assault

By Andrea Cavanaugh, Stop Prisoner Rape -

Those engaged in the fierce debate over U.S. drug policy often overlook the human casualties of the "War on Drugs" - the nonviolent drug offenders who are subjected to unimaginable sexual brutality in our prisons and jails. It's time to give those prisoners a voice and let them tell their stories.

Stop Prisoner Rape, the only organization dedicated solely to ending sexual violence against men, women, and youth in all forms of detention, is embarking on a pioneering project. Stories from Inside will demonstrate how U.S. drug policy and three-strikes laws have fueled prison overcrowding and sparked a dramatic increase in prisoner rape. The project will show that the "real" cost of the drug war is measured in human lives.

The drug war is indisputably the greatest single factor affecting U.S. prison populations. In 2000, roughly one in five state prison inmates and a staggering 57 percent of federal prisoners were incarcerated on drug charges. As recently as 2003, state prisons were operating at 16 percent above capacity, while federal prisons were stuffed to nearly 40 percent above capacity.

The link between drug policy, overcrowding, and sexual violence is clear. Many corrections officials have asserted that overcrowding is a key factor in inmate-on-inmate rape. Nonviolent drug offenders are among the most vulnerable to sexual abuse behind bars, because many are unable to defend themselves against violent inmates.

Our prisons and jails are overflowing with people suffering from untreated drug addiction who become targets for prison predators.

Many prisoners of the drug war have been forced to suffer sexual abuse in silence, but they now have an opportunity to speak out and help break down the culture of violence that governs our prisons and jails. SPR is seeking non-violent drug offenders who are survivors of prisoner rape to tell their stories.

We will honor requests for anonymity, but hope survivors will consider that using their names and photographs will give their story a powerful impact. An SPR representative will conduct face-to-face interviews with survivors who agree to go on the record, take their photographs, and make an audio recording of their story.

We'll also help survivors prepare for the advocacy campaign that will accompany the release of Stories from Inside. When it is released to the public, the project will help shatter stereotypes about prisoner rape and break down the commonly held perception that drug defendants "get what they deserve" while in custody.

The project will help policymakers, corrections officials and the public understand that the cost to society of prisoner rape and sexual abuse - sexually transmitted disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, unwanted pregnancy, and above all, an escalating cycle of violence - is borne by all of us, inside and outside of jails and prisons.

At SPR, we know how much courage it takes to talk about what happens behind prison walls. But by taking the brave step of participating in Stories from Inside, drug war prisoners who have suffered sexual abuse can break the code of silence and help put an end to rape behind bars.

If you would like to participate in Stories from Inside, or know someone who would, please contact Andrea Cavanaugh, SPR's Public Outreach Associate.

Write to SPR at 3325 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 340, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, call (213) 384-1400 x106, or email

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