How Common is Prison Rape?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Many people believe prison rape is very common. It can be difficult to determine just how often it happens, however, since the number of reported cases of prison rape may be fewer than the actual number of cases of non-consensual sex overall. Some experts theorize that many inmates do not come forward to report that they have been raped because they are either embarrassed or fear the retaliation of the those who have victimized them. Additionally, it may be even harder to determine how many prisoners have been victims of rape when considering incidents in which a prison guard or other official commits rape and then makes an effort to keep the victim from reporting it to others in authority.

Some research studies have shown that a large percentage of prisoners have been the victims of sexual assault.
Some research studies have shown that a large percentage of prisoners have been the victims of sexual assault.

Experts often differ when it comes to their opinions of just how common prison rape is. Some experts claim that the number of incidents is decreasing while others state that it is increasing or staying the same. Some research studies have shown that a large percentage of prisoners have been the victims of sexual assault. The numbers, however, may differ from country to country as well as from prison to prison. Likewise, the numbers may vary based on the gender of a population of prisoners.

Many experts fear that prison rape statistics are misleadingly low.
Many experts fear that prison rape statistics are misleadingly low.

Many prisoners have come forward to report prison rape and assert that it is common. This may surprise some people who believe that only those in prison for rape and child molestation or those who previously worked in the justice system are likely to be raped. Some research has shown, however, that the type of crime for which a person has been convicted is not an accurate indicator of whether or not he will become a victim of prison rape. Even someone who has been convicted of what others might consider a lesser crime can become a victim.

While some research has demonstrated that prison rape is common, many experts fear that the statistics are misleadingly low. This is due to the fact that many prison rapes may go unreported because a victim feels too embarrassed to report it or has been threatened into keeping it to himself. In some cases, a prisoner may also fail to report it because he did not fight back and fears that no one will believe the sexual act was not consensual. Additionally, some prisoners report that their reports are ignored or considered false by corrupt, busy, or ill-informed officials.

Victims of prison rape may endure psychological trauma as a result.
Victims of prison rape may endure psychological trauma as a result.
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


One of my favorite shows, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit had a very compelling episode on prison rape. One of the lead stars went undercover as a women in prison and was nearly raped by a guard. While it was of course a dramatization, I have no doubt that that sort of thing happens more than anyone would like to admit to.

I feel that while people have committed crimes, they are still humans who deserve to be treated as fairly as anyone else. There should be more safeguards in place to prevent rape from happening in prisons. How are we supposed to reform people when such terrible things happen to them?


Prison rape victims seem to show up a lot on crime dramas and in movies. It seems like the easiest plot line these days is to follow a criminal through the process of being booked, and the idea that they are getting what is coming to them. This is especially true in the case of imprisoned pedophiles.

I really think that people think prison rape is common because it shows up so much in pop culture. There are plenty of jokes about "dropping the soap" and so on. It is really quite sad how much a joke such a serious violation has become.


@cardsfan27 - Although I do agree with your assessment that prison rape is under-reported I do not think that it is as extreme as you may dictate. I do not think that average citizens who have never served time in prison can fathom or understand what it is like to be in prison and not understand the culture that goes along with it.

Due to the media we are instilled with the understanding the prison rape is an integral part of prison culture and that it is something to fear and be aware of is someone were to be arrested, tried, and sent to prison.

However, one thing that I have to wonder is whether or not the media simply blows the issue out of control and whether or not it is simply a rare instance as opposed to a common instance as the media and pop-culture seem to make it out to be.


@matthewc23 - I understand your position. Male rape is such an embarrassing thing that it would not at all surprise me that it is under-reported and that it happens way more often than what statistics dictate. Although shows have given us the perception that prison rape does happen quite often, I have to imagine that this does occur as there are many sex offenders in prisons and they would be capable of doing such things to people against their will, regardless of sex.


@jcraig - I am unaware as to where you would go to find statistics on subjects such as prison rape, but one thing I can assure is that it is something that is severely under-reported. The movie Deliverance showed us that there are certain things that although illegal actions, people do not want to share for fear of embarrassment and male rape is one of them. Prison is a very different environment than the outside world and there are many factors that can play into whether an inmate is willing to report a rape. After all since it is prison there could be consequences that could happen from other inmates should the rape go reported, but then again this could just be the media fueling my mind.


After watching many shows such as Oz it has left me with the perception that prison rape is common. I do not know if this is just a media based belief that people buy into, but the perception out there is that prison rape is very common and it is instilled in the public's mind. What I have to wonder is where statistics can be found concerning this topic and whether or not prison rape is an exaggerated urban legend that happens only so often.

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